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Letters to the Editor

Readers write about why Supreme Court justices should be empathetic, Obama's approach to the job of US president, and the importance of correctly attributing war crimes.

May 12, 2009

Obama is right – Supreme Court justices should have empathy

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Regarding the May 1 editorial, "Obama's test of impartiality for Souter's successor": The subtitle of this editorial reads, "Justice must be blind, not partisan. The Supreme Court can't be another political battleground."

This is absurdly ironic in a time when politically vetted conservative justices are systematically dismantling longstanding constitutional rulings. The authors fail even to mention the very public and open campaign by Republican conservatives to pack the court with like-minded ideologues on questions like abortion, voting rights, and immigration.

The editorial goes on to claim, "Obama says he wants judges who have 'the heart, the empathy ... to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.' Such goals are noble – for a politician. But that requirement butts up against the federal judicial oath. Judges must swear to 'administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.' "

Surely, one can see the absurd reasoning in this assertion. Our judges and Supreme Court justices are overwhelmingly from upper-class, privileged backgrounds. They understand the rich, but often not the poor.

Few judges or justices have experienced poverty, and I doubt any have been teenage unwed mothers. All can speak English fluently. None have been illegal aliens. None have felony convictions for smoking marijuana or stealing a candy bar. None have been institutionalized for psychosis. None, probably, have ever been homeless.

President Obama did not say he wanted to appoint judges from such broken backgrounds. He said he will appoint judges with empathy for those millions of us whose lives are unprivileged. Without that empathy, they cannot fulfill their federal oath to "do equal right to the poor."

John Henson
Austin, Texas

Obama will be a president in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt

In regard to the May 6 editorial, "The Obama doctrine: Charm enemies, arm-twist friends": President Barack Obama does indeed have the "fresh approach" mentioned in this editorial. It is too early to know what his accomplishments in foreign policy will actually be, but while considering that matter, it might be worthwhile for us to reflect on the record of the president whose second term ended 100 years ago.

By taking a look at Teddy Roosevelt, we can easily see a pattern emerging with the current president. Just as Mr. Roosevelt was fond of quoting the West African proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far," Obama has quickly moved to make that admonition part of his current game plan. His tactics are executing a strategy that is sure to equal Roosevelt's.