The historic nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be the next member of the U.S. Supreme Court is an invitation to consider the role of biography—not only as a qualification for a nominee, but also for the role it might play in rulings.
Yesterday, I presented three positions—empathy, partiality, impartiality. (Scroll down to read our earlier articles.)
In response, Eoghan says that impartiality is the key: “The question is—can she hold the scales of justice level? Empathy has no place on SCOTUS. Ours is a nation of laws, not feelings. If I want ‘feelings’ I’ll go see Cats, again.”
Allan Schnaiberg argues that “biography always matters in any judicial or other institutional appointment. We are only partly a product of our professional training. In any organization, our roles are also determined by our personalities and values.” In other words, there’s no escaping biography.
“Biography does matter,” says Dinah Berland, “and I am positively thrilled that a woman who has experienced both the hardships and opportunities of this great nation has been nominated to sit on its highest court.”
The large dilemma looming above our discussion is an age-old one: the insider/outsider dilemma. As Robert Merton described, the “insider doctrine” says that only insiders have access to the truth. It takes one to know one. The poor cannot understand the rich; the old, the young; the black, the white; and so on.
The “outsider doctrine” says that insiders are not objective; they are too emotionally entangled to really understand what is going on. The Carnegie Corporation took this position when it searched, years ago, to find a scholar to study race relations in America. Their choice was Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal—because he was an impartial outsider.
In our diverse society, we are all both—outsiders and insiders. Understanding people who are different is an American challenge. The more diverse the Supreme Court, the more our highest court may be able to rise above the insider/outsider dilemma.
What do you think? Have you experienced the insider/outsider challenge? Does it take one to know one?
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