President Obama, while a presidential candidate, gave a very important speech (March 18, 2008) on race in America. In that speech he said that “Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race…So when they…hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed…resentment builds over time.”
Those were brave and important words for then-Senator Obama to say. However, through close observation and experience I have learned to pay more attention to what President Obama does than to what he says.
The most recent case in point is his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a federal judge, Ms. Sotomayor has been the poster child for President Obama’s desire to have judges who will have empathy with some groups, which means less empathy for other groups.
Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason: she’s supposed to be impartial, not empathic. Empathy belongs in the legislature and the executive branch, and not in the judicial branch. Sotomayor is a living, breathing example of making the law subjective and relative, rather than objective and impartial.
The best illustration of Judge Sotomayor’s less-than-objective view of the law is her treatment of the Ricci v. DeStefano case.
The Ricci case involves New Haven, Conn., firefighters (17 whites and 1 Hispanic) who scored highest on written exams, but were not promoted because the city council feared being sued for racial discrimination because no black firefighters scored well enough to be promoted. The firefighters who were denied promotion filed a lawsuit claiming reverse discrimination.
When the case came before Judge Sotomayor, she rejected their claims in such a casual fashion that a fellow judge, Jose Cabranes (a Clinton appointee), severely criticized her and stated that “This perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented in this appeal.” In other words, Judge Sotomayor gave the 18 deserving male firefighters the back of her judicial hand.
Ms. Sotomayor also stated in a 2001 speech to LaRaza, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life…Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.”
Fair and impartial to all?-Hardly! Fortunately, Chief Justice John Roberts is living proof that Judge Sotomayor’s assessment of white males and their supposed limitations is incorrect.
The Ricci case has now gone before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the majority of the justices have given every indication that they are going to give the New Haven firefighters the justice they were so casually denied by Ms. Sotomayor. Chief Justice Roberts was particularly tough in oral questioning of the New Haven City Council’s attorney.
This was no surprise. In a case that came before the Supreme Court last year (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1), which involved racial preferences for balancing enrollments in particular schools, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion denying racial quotas or preferences: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
That’s blind justice-equal treatment for all under the law. Sotomayor will be for affirmative action, quotas, set asides. That’s the business end of empathy. In the business end of empathy, some people get discriminated against in favor of other people.
Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.