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July 21, 2009

Yale Law's Stephen Carter: Empathy an 'Empty Standard'

The novelist and law professor supports Sotomayor, critiques Obama.

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Former CT associate editor Edward Gilbreath has interviewed former CT columnist (and novelist and Yale Law professor) Stephen Carter over at UrbanFaith.com. They discuss Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and then briefly touch on race relations, education reform, and, oh yes, Carter's new novel, Jericho's Fall.

A sample: Gilbreath asks Carter "as a law expert and an African-American" what he thinks of President Obama using the criterion of "empathy" in selecting a nominee. Here is Carter's response:

I respectfully disagree with President Obama that "empathy" is an important characteristic in a judge. Had the President said what I think he probably meant -- "patience" or "a willingness to listen and learn" -- I would have agreed. Judge Sotomayor has both in spades. But "empathy" is an empty standard. For example, a judge who always rules in favor of investment banks might have empathy for Wall Streeters; and, during the civil rights era, there were plenty of Southern apologists who described the working-class whites of the South as the truly oppressed in America.

Carter, who was a law school classmate of Sotomayor's, has a great deal of respect for her, and wishes that our confirmation process would not grab occasional phrases to use as "cudgels," but would actually delve into the nominee's opinions.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Read past Stephen Carter columns for CT here.

Comments

Then the expert in the law -- a professor at Yale, no less -- came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"Empathy, huh?" the expert in the law said, unimpressed. "That's such an empty standard."

Fred, your comment is brilliantly funny in another context (I'm not kidding, it was very good). However, I think Carter's explanation of why empathy would be a concering characteristic to seek makes sense.