May 10th, 2009
01:14 PM ET
12 years ago

Reliable Sources: Obama's search for 'empathy'

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein weighed in Sunday on the President's announcement that he is search for a Supreme Court justice who has empathy for people's hopes and struggles."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The pundits on cable were hot and bothered by one of President Obama’s requirements for a Supreme Court Justice.

“I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes,” Obama said last week at a White House press briefing.

Washington Times columnist Amanda Carpenter explained conservatives’ concern about the “empathy” issue on Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz Sunday morning. Several conservatives on cable, radio and in print argued that “empathy” is a code word for “liberal.” On Fox News, Sean Hannity said that Democrats “want the courts to take over and engage in social engineering.”

"Empathy, it's an emotive term. I mean, Barack Obama is calling for a judge who will take their emotions into account when making a judicial decision," Carpenter told Howard Kurtz.

"This is hilarious," TIME Magazine’s Joe Klein said in response. "This is 'Exhibit A' of what I was just talking about. The Republicans, when they hit the word 'empathy,' are being hateful and ugly."

Filed under: State of the Union • Supreme Court
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Gary

    Everyone should have empathy, even judges. Judges however have the power to interpret law not make law. We need judges at all levels that can be empathetic but still interpret the accurately. That means that sometimes they make judicial decisions that are painful to them. If they want to be involved in making law they need to run for congress or amend the constitution.

    May 10, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  2. Bob

    I am amazed at how many well educated people confuse empathy with sympathy. Empathy refers to an ability to 'put yourself into the heads of other people', to understand the perspectives, emotions, and motivations of other people. It does not suggest that you are sympathetic to their beliefs or behavior.

    Someone who is not empathetic cannot, for example, write fiction because they can only create characters that think like themselves. Similarly, someone who is not empathetic does not make a good judge as they can only understand their own context. So, a non empathetic overachiever could never understand the behavior of a homeless person (for example).

    Anyway, that seems to be the press and the rest of the critics – much adue about nothing.

    May 10, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  3. Mike in NYC

    Empathy can be positive in its proper sphere, but when allowed to dominate public policy without the constraints imposed by cold, hard adherence to facts, disaster awaits.

    And really, Joe, the word "hateful" has become as overused and meaningless as, like, the word "like."

    May 10, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  4. Doc

    Hannity is the end result of social engineering when a conservative mates with the ass end of a hyena.
    And when did he say he would be waterboarded for charity? And staying so quiet about it now? Where is his loud, stupid, non-military serving ass now?

    May 10, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |

    Empathy a code word for liberal? So liberals have feelings and republicans don't. Just what I always thought. And these people call themselves christians. Incredible!

    May 10, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  6. we are what we are = troglodytes

    Empathy is not in the republican vocabulary. Bush paid lip service to "compassionate conservative" and that was about as close as the republicans have ever come to empathy.

    May 10, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. Pam

    What Judge's decision isn't decided via the hue of their emotions, their point of personal reference? They are human and flawed like everyone else as hard as they may try. Please give me a break! If one listen to Clarence homas, you hear where he was ridiculed and rejected by those in the community he was raised in. This comes through in his decisions.

    May 10, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  8. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    A Supreme Court Justice's job is to interpret the Constitution, not to feel sorry for someone. If you let emotion rule decisions rather than law, there is no longer justice. Nothing hateful about it. You make decisions based on the law and not emotion, whether it's traffic court or the Supreme Court.

    May 10, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  9. choose wisely grasshopper

    W inflicted damage everywhere

    you can set us back on the road to repair

    May 10, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  10. Larry of Massachusetts

    Obama is a socialist with a liberal socialist agenda He will appoint a radical left wing liberal activist judge – just what this country does not need

    May 10, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  11. dace

    Yes we know the right wing zealots do not want a human being that thinks and cares about the people – they only want ditto heads that take their marching orders from the extreme right fringe – just like the majority on the current court. They want a theocracy with only white heterosexual super rich Christian zealot men run everything and a woman's uterus is state property that is to be impregnated even by a rapist and forced to give birth to the rapists baby – so of course they are driven crazy by the idea of Empathy.

    May 10, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  12. Jerry in NC

    On Fox News, Sean Hannity said that Democrats “want the courts to take over and engage in social engineering.”

    Isn't it "social engineering" when the republicans want the rest of the country and the world to live by their morals and standards?????? And they invade countries to force it down the throats of the people who live there? Do any of those people hear themselves speak, when they spew out the garbage from their mouths?

    May 10, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  13. Lori

    Who cares if the Supreme Court justice is liberal. He's supposed to be a liberal. Just like it's o.k for a Republican president to nominate a conservative judge, it is o.k for President Obama to put in someone who is liberal with 'empathy.' Get over it, we're in charge now. And being liberal is not a bad word.

    May 10, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  14. Theodore

    So Republicans don't want our judges to have any empathy, but demand everyone to be empathetic to the Bush Administration's illegal torture tactics?

    May 10, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  15. Bill ~ Down on the Bayou

    Here we are treated to the wisdom of the lying Joe Klein falling in line with the weak-kneed obama in his choice for a judge. What a joke these people are.

    May 10, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  16. Mike

    1. Identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives.

    When exactly has this become a bad thing?

    May 10, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  17. smiff

    Words like love hate nice pretty sad ugly are mere expressions of human emotion toward a particular subject and in that context only. The law like lady liberty is blind and holds a two edged sword. The balances account for equal protection not teary eyed activism. The law is supposed to be evenly weighted for truth not feeling. Do you want a judge to feel more sympathy for the guy who k-i-l-l-s your kid than you and your kid. No matter how you feel about it consequences usually dont check in at the whimper counter before coming to light. GET REAL AMERICA AND SOON.

    May 10, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  18. shaun

    I would tend to agree with Bob Empothy and Sympothy are two completely differant things. I don't know about you but I do want somone who has the will of the people in mind when they are making decsions.

    May 10, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |

    That word does not Exsist with the GOP! That is a Foreign word to them!

    May 10, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  20. James A.

    This is correct - empathy IS a code word for liberal, because conservatives do not care if people suffer.

    May 10, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
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