Obama acclaimed his nominee’s biography as a qualification for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, along with her impressive academic credentials and legal experience. Yesterday, I quoted his statement about her biography.
Should her biography really matter?
That’s a question hanging in the air ever since he announced his pick for the highest court. There seem to be three positions.
Empathy. Her humble background—a minority, born of immigrant parents, brought up in a south Bronx housing project, against all odds going to Princeton and Yale—provides a unique lens on the American experience for the poor, the disadvantaged, and the neglected. Empathy leads to better judicial decisions.
Partiality. Others say that biography, played out in judicial decisions, is just a form of favoritism—a way to benefit some groups at the expense of others. Here, the law is a conflict of interest groups and their proponents.
Impartiality. Biography shouldn’t matter; a jurist struggles against his or her biography—in an effort to be impartial. Those who espouse this view cite the ancient model of Iustitia, the Roman Goddess of Justice. This well-known figure holds the scales of justice in one hand, a sword in the other, and—the most important part—is often blindfolded. In this image, the law is pure, and the legal debate is settled without taking biography—the judge’s, the defendant’s, or the prosecutor’s into account.
The fact is that biography always matters. It’s impossible not to. The question is whether biography leads to distortion of the facts, bias of interpretation, and unfairness of results.
My opinion is that one who has experienced America from one end to the other—from a housing project in the South Bronx to the highest court in the land—is likely to use biography in a way that leads to better judicial decisions.
What do you think? Should biography matter?