Obama says he would look into Court nominees’ hearts

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) sent a strong signal yesterday that he would appoint pro-abortion rights Supreme Court justices but stopped short of endorsing a litmus test.

After a speech heavily critical of the new Supreme Court in front of a Planned Parenthood Action Fund conference in Washington, the presidential candidate said he would look into potential nominees’ hearts when deciding whom to select for vacancies in the country’s highest court.

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“[Chief] Justice Roberts said he saw himself just as an umpire,” Obama said. “But the issues that come before the court are not sports; they’re life and death. We need somebody who’s got the empathy to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom.”

Obama said that 95 percent of cases can be judged on intellect, but that the other 5 percent are the most important ones.

“In those 5 percent of cases, you’ve got to look at what is in the justice’s heart, what’s their broader vision of what America should be,” Obama said, adding that justices should understand what it’s like to be gay, poor or black as well.

Obama said these are the criteria he would use to evaluate potential justices.

The sentiment sounded similar to President Bush’s evaluation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Upon meeting Putin for the first time in 2001, Bush said he “looked the man in the eye” and “was able to get a sense of his soul.”

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) recently came out in favor of an abortion litmus test for justices. Asked about the issue during an April debate, neither Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) nor Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) expressly advocated such an assessment, but instead said nominees should share their thinking and values.

Obama spent much of his speech deriding the court’s recent opinions striking down what anti-abortion activists call “partial-birth abortion,” restricting women’s ability to sue over past sexual discrimination, and barring the use of race in school integration.

He cast them as part of a vast effort to roll back abortion rights and took particular aim at the swing vote on the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Citing Kennedy’s opinion in the abortion case, Obama said his conclusions defied medical opinion.

Kennedy conceded that there is no evidence that women who have abortions suffer particularly from mental health issues, but said it’s not unreasonable to deduce that some suffer from ill effects.

“Justice Kennedy knows many things; it is my understanding that he does not know how to be a doctor,” Obama said.

Obama said the battle for abortion rights should be fought from the offensive, instead of a simple defense of what activists have achieved thus far.

And he reiterated his opposition to the two justices appointed by Bush who sit on the Supreme Court — Roberts and Samuel Alito. Obama voted against both.

“It is important for us, obviously, not only to get a Democratic White House as well as a stronger Congress to protect these rights,” Obama said. “But I also think it’s important to understand that there’s nothing wrong in voting against nominees who don’t appear to share a broader vision of what the Constitution is about.”

While denouncing the abstinence-only education advocated by conservatives, Obama acknowledged that sex education should include a “moral component,” suggesting that abstinence should be taught alongside contraception.

“As Martin Luther King used to say, ‘It’s not either/or, it’s both/and,’” Obama said.