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Compassion on the Supreme Court.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | June 18, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle (c) 2009

Judge Sonya Sotomayor’s pronouncement, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” has, like it or not, become the defining theme of her candidacy for the United States Supreme Court.

When she first used the “wise Latina” expression, in a 1994 speech, she explained that a woman with such experiences would tend to towards greater compassion in her decisions.

Compassion is a positive characteristic in a judge. It makes sense that one who has been required to endure the indignities that must have accompanied breaking ground as a double-minority lawyer and judge would create strong sensitivity to similar injustice to others.

But where does compassion fit among the qualities we want to see in a Justice on the Supreme Court? A good argument can be made that on a Court of last resort, compassion should not be permitted to prevail over other important considerations.

A trial judge rarely sets precedent. He or she usually has the opportunity to do justice to the litigants at bar without causing unforeseen consequences to others. Not so an appellate judge. Every word and nuance set down in an appellate opinion has the potential to change the outcome of countless cases to come. This factor multiplies by some large exponent when the United States Supreme Court is involved. As numerous justices have noted in their opinions, there is often a conflict between a just result in a particular case and a just rule of law to be applied in all cases.

In such a case, compassion must yield to reason.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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