THE BIG QUESTION, May 5: Picking a Justice

The Big Question is a feature where influential lawmakers, pundits and interest group leaders give their answers to a question that's driving discussion in news circles around the country.

Some responses are gathered via e-mail, while others are gathered in person via tape recorder.

Today’s Big Question is:
Barack Obama has said he’ll look for an ‘empathetic’ Supreme Court justice who understands how court decisions affect Americans’ lives. Are these the proper criteria? If not, what qualities should Obama look for in a Supreme Court justice?

Read responses below from Robin Conrad, Ilya Shapiro, Larry Sabato and Herbert London.

Read the last Big Question here.

Robin Conrad, Executive Vice President of the U.S. Chamber’s National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC), said:
Because an appointment to the Supreme Court is a lifelong job, and decisions by a Supreme Court Justice often reverberate far beyond the parties directly involved in a case, it’s absolutely critical that the President ‘get it right’ when selecting a nominee to the Court.

That’s why the National Chamber Litigation Center, the U.S. Chamber’s public policy law firm, very carefully scrutinizes Supreme Court nominees in order to help the President and the U.S. Senate evaluate candidates’ fitness for office based on their legal scholarship, judicial temperament and understanding of business and economic issues. Read the full response here.

Ilya Shapiro, Editor-in-Chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, said:
No, while “empathy” or “having a big heart” might be among the top things to look for in a legislator, or even a family court judge, the qualities that make a good Supreme Court justice are quite different.

The role of any judge is to apply the law to the facts, respecting the integrity of the judicial process and the limits of judicial power. The highest court in the land has a further, greater task, than any other judicial body: to interpret, without further review (other than reconsideration by the Court itself in a later case) the meaning of our founding document. Read the full response here.

Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics, said:
Empathy is a wonderful thing but it wouldn’t be in my list of top criteria for the court. Intelligence, understanding of the law and willingness to follow it, broad public experience, good character, and ability to diversify an undiversified bench matter much more.

Herbert London, President of the Hudson Institute, said:
It seems to me that the first and overarching goal in seeking a Supreme Court Justice is a person’s willingness to adhere to Constitutional provisions. Empathy has nothing at all to do with qualifications and, if it does, than jurisprudence will be subject to the most relativistic positions.

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, said:
If Barack Obama was offering to choose the umpires for the World Series and explained he wanted “empathetic” umpires who would make their calls based on how they felt about the players and their backgrounds and life stories how would American baseball fans react?

Americans who value justice should feel the same way about Obama’s theory of picking judges.

What if the guy who steals your car gets more empathy from Obama’s judge than you do?

William Redpath, Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, said:
A Supreme Court Justice should be empathetic with the US Constitution. If the people don’t like the results, they are free to amend the Constitution.