After President Obama stated that he would use “empathy” as one criterion for selecting a candidate for the U. S. Supreme Court, negative responses flooded the media. President Obama talking in press conference about selecting a Supreme Court Justice gave his criteria as: sharp and independent mind; honors the constitution; respects the judicial process; and holds the judicial values upon which the country was founded. Then he mentioned an additional consideration: empathy.
Almost immediately political pundits on television screamed: “empathy is a codeword for social engineering.” Senator Orin Hatch said empathy is a codeword for “activist judge.” And Fox’s Laura Ingraham even said “Empathy is a loopy qualification for a Supreme Court judge.”
Comedians Colbert and Stewart gave the most penetrating perspective about the controversy on all of television that week.Stephen Colbert deduced from all the television verbiage that empathy must be code for “drug-addled evolutionist with swine flu.” And Jon Stewart on the Daily Show in essence concluded that loopy, conservative pundits wore hearing aids that only said “abortion, abortion, abortion” whenever Obama spoke about judicial appointments.
Blogs and newspaper opinion pieces, at the rate of about 10 to 1, dumped on empathy as an acceptable characteristic for a Supreme Court judge. Just like television, conservative politicians ridiculed the President in writing, claiming that empathy is a mere codeword for pro-choice and anti-guns. Writer after writer parroted the claim that empathy is the polar opposite of fairness and the rule of law.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Look up empathy in the dictionary and you will find it defined as simply the awareness of the feeling and situation of others. In essence, it is “putting yourself in another’s shoes.” For more on empathy, read the article on this site titled “Ingredients of Personal Compassion.”