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The Sotomayor Hearings: When Did Empathy Become a Dirty Word?

by Neena Chaudhry, Senior Counsel,
National Women’s Law Center

This post is part of a series about the nomination of Judge Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

As Senators made opening statements on the first day of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor, several referenced the now controversial “e” word—empathy.  This word became a focal point when President Obama mentioned it as one of the many qualities he is looking for in a Supreme Court Justice, and it is now being misused in an attempt to paint Judge Sotomayor as someone who will not be impartial but rather will make decisions based on personal biases.  Unfortunately, the President’s statement and the definition of the word empathy have both been distorted in the name of politics.  It is reminiscent of the telephone game that many of us played as kids, where the initial sentence or phrase was warped after repeated whisperings of it from one person to another. 

Since we’re talking about a Supreme Court nomination, it seems fitting to start with the facts.  Here is what President Obama actually said: “I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity.  I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book.  It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives -- whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. . . . I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving a[t] just decisions and outcomes.  I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.  I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded, and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.” 

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The Sotomayor Hearings: Day 2 Begins

Posted by Amy K. Matsui, Senior Counsel and Director of Women and the Courts | Posted on: July 14, 2009 at 12:57 pm

by Amy Matsui, Senior Counsel, 
National Women's Law Center 

This post is part of a series about the nomination of Judge Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

Today's the moment court-watchers have been waiting for: Judge Sotomayor takes the oath and answers questions on many of the key legal issues of the day that are important to women, including: 

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The Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings: Day One

Posted by Jen Swedish, Health Law Fellow | Posted on: July 14, 2009 at 01:55 am

by Jen Swedish, Health Law Fellow, 
National Women’s Law Center 

This post is part of a series about the nomination of Judge Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

Today, the first day of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, we’ve seen a little bit of everything.  A few highlights:

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Weekly Round-Up

Posted by NWLC, Intern | Posted on: July 14, 2009 at 01:35 am

by Catherine Kruse, Outreach Intern,
National Women's Law Center

Serena Williams won a Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon, and AAUW’s Tom Rosen blogged about her win’s significance in context of Title IX’s recent 37th anniversary.

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More Than Just a Show: History, the Sotomayor Hearings and the Future

Posted by | Posted on: July 13, 2009 at 06:24 pm

by Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President, 
National Women’s Law Center 

Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

Sitting in the Senate hearing room this morning, I couldn't disagree more with those who dismiss the Sotomayor hearing as a show, with little meaning or purpose.

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Judge Sotomayor's Confirmation Hearings Begin: Signals of What Lies Ahead

Posted by | Posted on: July 13, 2009 at 03:06 pm

by Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President, 
National Women's Law Center 

This post is part of a series about the nomination of Judge Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

I am here in the hearing room as the Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin this morning.  Senators on the Committee are giving their opening statements which are highlighting the themes that each Senator (and each party, more broadly) will be trying to elicit in the course of the hearings.  These statements are the precursor to the questions the Senators will ask Judge Sotomayor, beginning tomorrow morning.  For several days, Senators will engage Judge Sotomayor in a serious discussion of the legal issues of the day, including constitutional rights like the right to privacy and Equal Protection, and statutes that protect Americans from discriminatory treatment and provide health and safety protections.

Bookending Judge Sotomayor’s direct testimony will be testimony by other witnesses.  Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced the witnesses who will testify later this week. There are 13 witnesses called by the Democrats, and 14 called by the Republicans.  And like this morning’s statements by Judiciary Committee Senators, the testimony of those witnesses will sound a number of themes.

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