Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is Justice Blind?

Supreme Court nominee's Sonia Sotomayor comments regarding a wise Latina judge based on her life experiences could make better decisions than a white male judge elicited cries of racism from her detractors. It also elicited comments about how "justice is blind" and should be practiced without regard to demographics of the parties in court and only to the law. Judge Sotomayor is wrong. A wise Latina judge would not make better decisions but could possibly make different decisions than a white male judge. While her first statement can be called "racist", the second statement clearly is not. Justice is not blind and there is nothing wrong with that. Consider this: the Supreme Court rarely has unanimous decisions. The reason is that the law is rarely precise and ironclad. This leads to interpretations which is true with any field of endeavor. Economics, for example, is a discipline with clear theories and hypotheses, yet economists are famous for disagreeing with each other. Climate scientists have clarity as well, yet disagree over virtually all important issues including climate change. Judges are no different. It would be naive to think that a judge's life experiences, tastes and preferences, values and principles would have no impact on the interpretation of the law. However, whether the interpretation of one type of judge (say a Latina) is superior to that of another (say a white male) is clearly debatable. Nevertheless, one would expect agreement on those cases that are basically free from interpretation. However, those are the cases that seldom come before the Supreme Court. The open and shut cases are ones that the Supreme Court do not hear except to overturn egregious earlier decision (Plessey v Ferguson). The very cases that are on its docket are there precisely because of nuance rather than crystal clarity. These are the cases that will garner split decisions which may result in truly "bad" law or "good" law - depending on your personal views. Consider that in the Robert's court one third of the decisions were by a 5-4 vote. Thirteen of those cases were decided by all the "conservative" judges plus Kennedy; six cases were decided by all the "liberal" judges plus Kennedy; the remaining five had a mixture of both conservative and liberal justices. Now since all the justices are constitutional experts, why aren't all their decisions unanimous if justice were indeed blind?

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