David Brooks and Judge Sotomayor – An Emotional Quandary or Political Pandering?

June 1st, 2009

Aristotle is probably hiding under his ghostly bed after reading the celebration of illogic in David Brooks’ column, “The Empathy Issue”. It was clearly published in an attempt to encourage the public to see Judge Sotomayor’s candidacy for the Supreme Court as just another bid to place an emotional female in a venue really requiring a more temperate (read: ‘male’) personality.

In this opus, we are condescendingly informed that we should fear the nomination of any judge who shows evidence of diluting reason with emotion. I don’t recall this coming up in past years when David discussed male nominees whose personal investment in the emotionally charged realm of religion bordered upon the maniacal. Back in the day when George Bush was seeking a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Brooks advocated for a gentleman and a scholar – Michael McConnell – who apparently hoped to see public funds funneled to religious groups in a true showing of government ‘neutrality’.

The ‘rationale’ behind this is that neutrality is not communicated through our current, constitutionally mandated policy of separatism. Since allocation of funds to religious groups implies endorsement rather than neutrality, the abject desperation of such a stance indicates that Brooks himself appears unable to separate empirical thinking from the emotionally charged manner in which Republicans typically sell themselves to the public. It is almost too bad that we didn’t get to see this. The governmental response to funding requests by Pagans or even a Church of Atheism, would likely end all notion of neutrality in the matter. Personally, I would enjoy reading the application of former fans of Flip Wilson for “The Church of What’s Happening Now,” but that is another matter entirely.

Here are my comments as posted at the Times blog regarding “The Empathy Issue”:

59. May 29, 2009
Females and Emotion

Would this column have been written about a male nominee to the court with equivalent credentials? The contribution of emotion to decision making is an interesting subject. However, when paired with the suggestion that the process of Sotomayor’s judicial reasoning is ‘semi-primitive’ – while lauding earlier male philosophers for rejecting any such imbalance of logical analysis – is disingenuous in the extreme. It is my understanding that this judicial candidate has amassed a record of legal opinions that journalists might wish to consult before authoring demeaning analyses of how emotion can overpower reason. Where is your evidence for this supposition, delivered in the guise of an abstract warning, Mr. Brooks?

Graduating summa cum laude from Princeton and editing the Yale Law Journal as a law student are not accomplishments based in emotionally loaded cognitive processes. Certainly a degree of zealousness stemming from outrage over the unspeakable crimes one witnesses in New York City, is an aid to a prosecutor bent on taking criminals off the street. However, success in such endeavors requires ruthless discipline. How many of our current justices have had to practice this? Emotions, greed among them, led to the economic collapse of our most lauded corporate ‘citizens’. That resulted in a chain reaction reaching into the personal lives of every warm-blooded American citizen.

Judge Sotomayor has decisively acted in business matters knowing that legal doctrines must be consistent with those facts of life governing day to day experience. Individuals whose lives are threatened by any abrogation of constitutional safeguards, require decision making which is as narrow or as sweeping as the repair efforts required by such inequities. How gradual a change should the condition of slavery or practice of torture require before suspended by law? How many generations ought to go without health care while suffering inordinate damage from pollution produced by our corporate citizens?

Analyze specific cases to make your points, Mr. Brooks, or save this misleading analysis for lighter subject matter. Express your doubts clearly and cite your own reasoned logic for expressing them. Conservative discomfort with this nominee appears to be based more in emotion than fact.

(Note: In a subsequently filed comment, I posted Mr. Brooks advocacy for McConnell just to indicate that some of us actually use the NY Times search engines.)

Categories: NY Times, Published

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