Umpires, Perspective, and the Supreme Court
"Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role." - Chief Justice John G. Roberts
During his opening remarks for his own confirmation hearing in 2005, Chief Justice Roberts made this analogy that has gotten a lot of play in the media, and has already been used quite a few times during the current confirmation hearing of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Senator Jeff Sessions expressed his concern on Monday about Judge Sotomayor's judicial philosophy:
I will not vote for--no senator should vote for--an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their own personal background, gender, prejudices, or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court.
In my view, such a philosophy is disqualifying.
Such an approach to judging means that the umpire calling the game is not neutral, but instead feels empowered to favor one team over the other.
As a Little League baseball coach, nothing in the world would frustrate me more than an umpire who would call the game differently based upon the color of the jersey that the kids were wearing. It would be a direct affront to everything I believe about justice and fair play. But I haven't seen that happen. In fact, the biggest problem we face isn't an umpire that has favored one team over the other, but umpires who make mistakes in their rulings and judgment because of their lack of perspective.
You see, at our team's age level of Little League, they can only afford one umpire for each game. They have to call balls, strikes, and outs--all from behind home plate. And their limited vision of the field of play often results in some pretty bad calls. When my son Luke's team went on to the play-offs, and when he played on the all-star team, we had two umpires--one at home plate and one in the field--and the calls improved significantly. In fact, there were a few cases in which an initial call was reversed when the umpires were able to talk together about what each had seen from their different perspectives.
When my boys and I go to Nationals Stadium to watch a major league game, there are four umpires on the field. Their wide variety of perspectives, different angles of viewing the field, and long and distinct histories and experiences all allow for an even better application of the rules.
Still, no umpire claims to be perfect. They do not assume that they have the one true objective strike zone; or that they are always able to determine without assistance whether or not a batter's wrists "broke" and the check was actually a swing; or that they always make the right call at first, or on a sliding steal at second; or that theirs was only view that counted in a close play at home. To do so would be claiming an omniscience that baseball umpires just don't have.
The claim that any human is able to remain unaffected by their background or have a purely objective view of any case is to claim a quality that belongs only to God: omniscience.
It seems that Sen. Sessions and others who have picked up these talking points of criticism have mistaken a very particular view of the world, their own, and called it the objective and correct view of the world. They have claimed an attribute that only belongs to God.
The problem is that Sen. Sessions doesn't really want impartiality; he wants judges who will see things just like he would. Of course, judges should seek to apply the law with impartiality, but, with every case, a judge has to hear and weigh facts, and make choices about how to view and interpret those facts. If this were a simple task of plugging a few statements into a syllogism or numbers into an equation, we would have a computer program to decide cases and not humans. It is exactly a diversity of perspectives and experiences, the variety of ways that a case can be approached and the information processed, that brings us closer to truth and closer to justice. A senator who wants only one perspective isn't really concerned with truth or justice, but with the maintenance of historic dominance and control.
Some people just want to control home plate.
Posted by: gjkbear | July 19, 2009 8:06 PM
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