Sotomayor Subtext: The Myth of Judicial Objectivity

The Sotomayor confirmation hearings have elicited many reactions these past few days. From not-so-veiled sexism, to condescending racism in the guise of anti-discrimination, to extensive questioning about the right to nunchucks, the potentially dull interrogation has now become center stage for exposing Senatorial insanity. Sotomayor’s testimony, on the other hand, has been admirably patient and articulate over the past days. Clearly, Sotomayor has been prepped rigorously as to not tip her hand too much, but her comments regarding race and the myth of objectivity have been surprisingly candid.

Watch Sonia Sotomayor answer her critics.

She is not naïve enough to suggest she has no biases, but instead acknowledges that various predilections necessarily arise from our upbringing and life experiences. Our families, teachers, communities, friends, role models, and others close to us shape our views about the world in unique ways. We are not objects, and our perspectives are shaped heavily by outside influences and access to opportunities.

It is a fallacy to believe there exists some impartial judge completely insulated from media, history, social movements, and pre-conception. We should not be alarmed by the notion that our judges have opinions. Effective judges require open, critical minds with which to analyze each case and its unique intricacies. The law is not a pure formula, and the Supreme Court not a machine which processes cases in a hermetically-sealed bubble.

Our judges are human and all the better for it. The idea that compassion and empathy are corrosive to judicial objectivity is itself objectionable. Justice often requires more than a narrow ethic of justice, and compassion is compatible with equal consideration.