A Philosophical Divide

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor began yesterday; it consisted almost entirely of statements that were read by the Senators on the committee. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the committee, laid out clearly and eloquently the difference in judicial philosophy between Republicans and Democrats:

[T]his hearing is important, because I believe our legal system is at a dangerous crossroads. Down one path is the traditional American system, so admired around the world, where judges impartially apply the law to the facts without regard to personal views. This is the compassionate system, because it’s the fair system.

In the American legal system, courts do not make law or set policy, because allowing unelected officials to make law would strike at the heart of our democracy. Here, judges take an oath to administer justice impartially. That oath reads, “I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and to equal right to the rich and the poor, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me under the Constitution and laws of the United States, so help me God.”

These principles give the traditional system its moral authority, which is why Americans respect and accept the ruling of courts, even when they disagree. Indeed, our legal system is based on a firm belief in an ordered universe and objective truth. The trial is a process by which the impartial and wise judge guides us to truth.

Down the other path lies a brave new world, where words have no true meaning, and judges are free to decide what facts they choose to see. In this world, a judge is free to push his or her own political or social agenda. I reject that view, and Americans reject that view.

We have seen federal judges force their political and social agenda on the nation, dictating that the words “under God” be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance and barring students from even private, even silent prayer in schools.

Judges have dismissed the people’s right to their property, saying the government can take a person’s home for the purpose of developing a private shopping center.

Judges have, contrary to longstanding rules of war, created a right for terrorists captured on a foreign battlefield to sue the United States government in our own country.

Judges have cited foreign laws, world opinion and a United Nations resolution to determine that a state death penalty law was unconstitutional.

I’m afraid our system will only be further corrupted, I have to say, as a result of President Obama’s view that in tough cases the critical ingredient for a judge is, quote, “the depth and breadth of one’s empathy,” close quote, as well as his words, quote, “their broader vision of what America should be.”

Like the American people, I have watched this process for a number of years, and I fear that this thinking empathy standard is another step down the road to a liberal, activist, results-oriented, relativistic world, where laws lose their fixed meaning, unelected judges set policy, Americans are seen as members of separate groups rather than as simply Americans, where the constitutional limits on government power are ignored when politicians want to buy out private companies.

I feel we’ve reached a fork in the road, I think, and there are stark differences. I want to be clear. I will not vote for, and no senator should vote for, an individual nominated by any president who is not fully committed to fairness and impartiality toward every person who appears before them.

And I will not vote for, and no senator should vote for, an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their personal background, gender, prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of or against parties before the court.

In my view such a philosophy is disqualified. Such an approach to judging means that the umpire calling the game is not neutral, but instead feels empowered to favor one team over another. Call it empathy, call it prejudice, or call it sympathy, but whatever it is, it’s not law. In truth it’s more akin to politics, and politics has no place in the courtroom.

The battle lines are drawn. Today the real action will begin.

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