June 6th, 2009
08:04 AM ET

Dear President Obama #138: What happened to blind justice?

Reporter's Note: President Barack Obama wants advice on how to run the country. I suspect if I were President of the United States I’d want an owner’s manual. Nonetheless, my “letter a day to the White House” campaign continues unabated.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve been following this spat over Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment, and it really has me thinking about the nature of experience, and judgment, and justice. You may recall that some time ago I questioned whether we, as a culture, are giving up on the notion of objectivity, and this Supreme Court business is bringing it all back to mind. (Kind of the way Enter the Dragon reminds me of a girlfriend I once had. Ha!)

Anyway, without diving right into the fracas over your choice (because heaven knows that pool is plenty crowded already) I did want to share a couple of thoughts.

For starters, I accept that the way we are raised, the culture in which we grow up, and the events that fill our days substantially shape the moral framework of our lives.

In that sense, experience…not general experience, but specific life experience…matters. If we want a court that represents and understands all types of Americans, not just the white men who have forever dominated the court, a good mix of ethnicities, genders, ages, and points of view would appear to be de facto “good.” (“De facto;” that’s lawyer talk…extra points for me!)

But the flipside of this argument is unsettling to the point of being downright ugly. For years, when virtually all professional sports coaches were white, for example, the argument against more black coaches was essentially this: “They are from a culture that does not understand management at such a high level. They are not culturally equipped for the job. Their ethnic experience disqualifies them for the position.”

Those arguments were not fair and they were not correct. So you see the problem. If it was wrong to use ethnic identity as a disqualifier for a job then, how can we use it as a qualifier now?

I’ll tell you right up front I don’t have an answer. I am simply puzzled by the question. I should also add that I understand that Ms. Sotomayor, as you have suggested, might very much like to change her wording if she had to do it all over again. We all say things from time to time that may be less than fully considered, and if that were enough to keep us out of any given job, I would be habitually unemployed.

Still, if you pass any courthouse in America, there is a good chance you will see a statue or painting of Blind Justice. I have always understood the point to be that we should expect our judges (and presumably our Justices) to do all they can to put their individual experiences behind them, and embrace a broader objectivity in which their racial, sexual, or political identity becomes utterly subservient to their goal of justice that sees no color and no gender.

Just a few thoughts. Give me a buzz if you have a second, because I’d love to hear yours.

And I hope your weekend is going well.



Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Michael Schumann


    Appointing only very Conservative Judges and Justices (ala "W") was not exactly geared for any broad social appeal either.

    June 8, 2009 at 4:14 am |
  2. Rick

    Its all political to get the Hispanic vote for his reelection.

    June 7, 2009 at 3:31 am |
  3. Michael Schumann

    The example of the Coaches is EXACTLY the same here.

    We have done the "Rich Old White Boys" thing to Death when it comes to selecting our judiciary.

    Now, we have all sorts of people indirectly arguing that this is how things really should be done, and that we should not consider other kinds of people because they do not fit this pattern and might behave in new and different ways.

    When Mr. Obama was elected President, we broke a barrier that had persisted for over two centuries. I was happy to see it go.

    Now, President Obama wants to tear down MORE barriers and is using his position and his political clout do do it.

    I say Go, Obama, Go!

    June 6, 2009 at 11:29 pm |
  4. Peter

    The real experience of the struggle of the average Americans that we need in the US Supreme Court is what the elitists lack.

    I do remember that during the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts one newscaster said that The Justices listen to the opinions of their staff and interns to learn about the daily life of the people. If we look at their background we'll see why, they come from the privilege society.

    June 6, 2009 at 7:45 pm |
  5. Sandra

    Good point, Tom. But I wonder if there is such a thing as blind justice. Who can put all their experience aside to come to such a point? I imagine few of us can do this. And certainly not the men who currently sit on the court, and the woman, of course.

    June 6, 2009 at 6:40 pm |
  6. Karen C

    I don't think justice ever has been blind and certainly not in the supreme court or we would not have a very obvious "conservative" and "liberal" set of rulings with one all supreme judge wielding "swing" power. Anyone who thinks this has ever been a "blind justice" situation is only kidding themselves. The whole point now is to at least keep it even.

    June 6, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  7. Lisa

    There's no such thing as "blind justice." Even when the idea was first introduced, it is not possible. Man (and woman) is shaped by his/her personal experiences. The reason a Supreme Court needs to be diverse is because the mixture of experiences and insights is what's needed to produce a lens through which "justice" might have an opportunity to be fair. That's the concept of "blind justice". The Supreme Court is missing an essential perspective on the American experience....an hispanic female's perspective. It's also missing a host of other perspectives that will hopefully be added in the near future.

    June 6, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  8. Ren

    Did you know that there are countries in which the citizens are happier with their constitutional courts – countries that do not make such a fuss about a judge named Sonia?

    I feel that the way the US chooses their supreme court justices needs an overhaul. My suggestion: have a look at how other leading democracies are doing their selection processes and copy the best method.

    It is time for a change.

    June 6, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  9. Stella

    We are all raised with different values or in different cultures and that's why we are all unique individuals. However, when it comes to a work place, it is inappropriate to use our own values/beliefs on the job, especially one's job is going to affect another individual's life. Personal biases need to be dropped before entering a work place. One needs to separate his/her professional and personal lives.
    An individual should be hired for his/her job because of his/her qualifications to perform the job well and not because of race, religious beliefs, gender, and culture.

    June 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm |
  10. Robert Nelson Taylor

    Dear Mr. President, Could you please tell me why you didn't mension the thousands of gay men that died at the hands of the Nazis at buchenwald. Please help me understand why we do not matter ? I think you are do a great job , but please don't forget the we live and love just like you. Thank you for what you have done do far. Robert Nelson Taylor Providence,R.I.

    June 6, 2009 at 11:18 am |
  11. Shannon

    Good Point. Posing the question and individual quest for the answer is primary here.

    June 6, 2009 at 11:15 am |
  12. Rachel

    In a Fairy tale maybe, in the real world that has been controlled by basically white males it's not, I believe a melting pot Government is to our advantage, and there is much to finally be learned,! as we are learning words, meanings, outlooks on life truly differ from race to race, culture to culture, and a brain, level of intelligence, etc doesnt't vary with color,,,,

    June 6, 2009 at 9:55 am |
  13. RLWellman

    That's what blind justice used to mean. You weren't supposed to look at a person's color or gender to make a judgement. However, that has been changed.
    Now, the Constitution is even being changed, with our justices saying it really doesn't mean that, this is what it really means. Each one is changing it to suit his or her's own agenda.
    If this isn't discrimination or being racist I don't know what is! In the late 70's and early 80's at GM they gave women and minorities extra points after taking a test for skilled trades. These extra points allowed them to get to the top of the list. So this practice has been going on for a long time.
    Sotomayor's decision to throw out the fire fighter's test because no hispanic scored high enough to be promoted is a case of reverse discrimination.
    Now, the current administration doesn't even want tests given any more. They just want more minorities promoted, period. They don't care if they are capable or suitable for the job.

    June 6, 2009 at 9:53 am |