Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Football Justice and Supreme Court Justice

President Obama's articulated criteria for his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court is: "We need somebody who's got the heart to recognize -- the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowl titles, seven AFC championships and hosted 10 conference games. No other AFC or NFC team can match this record. By contrast, the Arizona Cardinals' last championship victory was in 1947 when they were based in Chicago. In anyone's book, this is a gross disparity. Should the referees have the empathy to understand what it's like to be a perennial loser and what would you think of a referee whose decisions were guided by his empathy? Suppose a referee, in the name of compensatory justice, stringently applied pass interference or roughing the passer violations against the Steelers and less stringently against the Cardinals. Or, would you support a referee who refused to make offensive pass interference calls because he thought it was a silly rule? You'd probably remind him that the league makes the rules, not referees.

I'm betting that most people would agree that football justice requires that referees apply the rules blindly and independent of the records or any other characteristic of the two teams. Moreover, I believe that most people would agree that referees should evenly apply the rules of the games even if they personally disagreed with some of the rules.

The relationship between Supreme Court justices and the U.S. Constitution should be identical to that of referees and football rules. The status of a person appearing before the court should have absolutely nothing to do with the rendering of decisions. That's why Lady Justice, often appearing on court buildings, is shown wearing a blindfold. It is to indicate that justice should be meted out impartially, regardless of identity, power or weakness.

~Walter Williams


At 5/20/2009 8:51 AM, Blogger QT said...

It is very difficult to evaluate whether Obama, a constitutional lawyer, is just blowing smoke rings for public consumption or not.

Obama has a habit of making over the top remarks that do not materialize into policy ie. He no longer intends to renegotiate NAFTA as promised. Recently, Obama told Central American leaders that his administration would approach Central American countries like Costa Rica as equals to the U.S. How can anyone actualy seriously believe such a statement?

It is difficult to understand how the Obama administration is served by creating confusion and opposition to ideas that he has little intention of implementing. The element of theatre about Obama seems to be more counterproductive at times.

At 5/20/2009 9:11 AM, Anonymous janet said...


Are you serious when you question whether Obama is just blowing smoke rings for public consumption? His record, views, outlook on life all paint him as a person who wants to radically change what HE perceives is social injustices for the poor and minorities. To hell with the rule of law or honoring the Constitution. This man believes HE knows what is best. Keep reading and believing what your Canadian press tells you about him. He is a radical socialist hellbent on changing this country and it is for the worse.

At 5/20/2009 9:48 AM, Blogger Uiucfinance said...

Empathy vs Sympathy...

Understanding vs Feeling Sorry...

I believe the former does not provoke action, while the latter does.

The ability to empathize, I would imagine, should be a very important part of being a judge who has to rule on such a variety of issues of with which he may have no real world experience.

Too put it into the the clownish analogy: "A referee can empathize with a guard blocking a defender in the back, as he understands the guard is only trying to protect the quarter back. The referee also understands that this is an illegal technique and calls a foul."

This may be just a difference in interpretation, but this seems to be a reoccurring theme. Funny, it is usually people whom have never had any experience with the crueler conditions of life are the ones to blanket the ones that are forced into those lives with generalities of being needy and wanting handouts. This discourse would be greatly enhanced if we all had a chance to walk in the shoes of our fellow man - but as this is not possible, empathy is the closest substitute.

At 5/20/2009 10:31 AM, Blogger elzepeda said...

excellent point Ui. I agree, empathy and sympathy are hardly the same thing.

At 5/20/2009 11:34 AM, Blogger Patrick said...

I think the lack of sympathy, and desire to act that I have for many people in bad situations would not be solved by my "walking in their shoes". Surely you know people that you grew up with or went to school with who are now among the unfortunate ones in our society. Generally speaking, I could tell those people who were not going to be super successful in life versus those who were. All this because of choices they made in life. Choices that I saw as the wrong one, or at least not the best one. Sure, I can understand how people would be upset by the fact that their life didn't turn out great in spite of those choices, but I don't really feel sorry for them. At least not enough to give up the future that I worked hard for while they were messing around.

Sorry that's a little off topic, but I'm tired of people trying to make me feel guilty for being successful.

At 5/20/2009 11:48 AM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/20/2009 11:59 AM, Blogger misterjosh said...

Statistically, the figures that I've seen indicate that the rules are NOT currently being carried out fairly. Blacks, get convicted far more often than whites, and get harsher sentences. I don't think ALL of this is due to poverty, etc.

At 5/20/2009 12:33 PM, Blogger Uiucfinance said...


First off, I don't expect you to feel guilty about success nor anyone else to feel guilty about success.

I grew up very well off, and I do well now on my own. If anything, I feel guilty that I'm not more successful given all the opportunities in life that I have had.

We just need to be realistic, and realize much of life has to do with luck, e.g. where you start off in life. I don't condone using your predetermined circumstances as an excuse to be lazy or a criminal. However, I think being realistic, given two people, and all else being equal, the person born into wealth, will be better off (at least by monetary means), than someone born into poverty.

If you have two people running a race, both of equal athletic capability, it is obvious the runner with the headstart is going to win.

Now, it is as a society for us to determine if this is fair, or if we should penalize the person with the headstart, or try to compensate the person with a disadvantage.

Whats the answer? I don't know, it is a question based on morals, ethics, and maybe even religion. My point is to be honest with the situation, and realize there are as you say both people who are born well off, and crash and burn, and there are people who are born poor, with talent given other circumstances would have made them successful and never encountered the opportunity.

To generalize the rich or the poor as evil,lazy or greedy for their given circumstances is to judge based on opinion and not on reality.

A little more off topic, I guess my philosophy on life is to be thankful for the opportunities I have been given, and be less concerned with people whom have been given opportunities they may or may not deserve.

Sorry for the tangent as well!

At 5/20/2009 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If President Obama wants a Supreme Court justice with empathy to teenage moms, why doesn't he skip the middleman and nominate Bristol Palin?

At 5/20/2009 2:05 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/20/2009 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appoint the NFL commissioner! He knows all about rules and race and can 'splain it to us. The blessed Constitution doesn't require a law degree of the Supremes (clearly) and it's a great patronage job with security and benefits the Commish can't even imagine.

At 5/20/2009 2:22 PM, Blogger CastoCreations said...

Whatever happened to Justice is Blind?

At 5/20/2009 2:23 PM, Blogger QT said...

Uiucfinance, Patrick,

The kind of criminals you are talking about don't go before the supreme court.

Empathy may have a feel good appeal but a judge is required to consider both sides of the question rather than picking favorites. The quality needed on the supreme court is an extensive knowledge of the law and a record of balanced, objective decisions.


I agree with you that Obama's ambition is to be a transformational president. Half the time, he scares the hell out of me. I hope that he does not achieve his goal of completely altering the U.S. along the lines of France (without the nuclear reactors).

There are several things that hinder his agenda 1)the design of the U.S. constitution which pits the different branches of government against each other 2) his ambition for a 2nd term which will require broad based support 3) history - international events have a habit of upending presidential agendas

WRT to football justice, I fail to see how Obama can seriously believe that empathy is the major criteria for a supreme court justice. He would have to be either utterly ignorant or completely contemptuous of the judicial proceedings. I find it difficult to imagine that a man as well-choreographed and studied as Obama is either.

What was most striking about the Democratic convention was the lack of any close friends or senatorial colleagues. The most bizarre speech came from a woman who claimed to be a friend of Obama's after working with him for exactly 1 day. Where does the theatre end and Obama begin?

At 5/20/2009 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys are confusing empathy with sympathy. Empathy implies one understands another’s position, another’s action, another’s life - it DOES NOT imply one agrees with it. Sympathy implies pity; whether one truly understands another's position is irrelevant.

Good police officers, therapists and correction officers yield empathy in their respective fields. It's unlikely anyone will succeed in any of these occupations with tear-jerking sympathy, or without empathy. Our U.S. military was unable to make headway in Iraq until its leaders grasped empathy.

At 5/20/2009 4:02 PM, Blogger QT said...


I can agree with the distinction between empathy and sympathy and will also accept that empathy is required for professions like corrections or therapy. These professions involve ongoing interaction/counselling of individuals with behavioral and interpersonal challenges.

Do you think that empathy is required for a supreme court justice? The briefs are usually presented by lawyers contesting lower court rulings. It is my understanding that the supreme court reviews the transcripts and the rulings of the lower court and counsel present arguments to the court. I do not believe that there is testimony from the victim or witnesses. If this is correct, I don't see how empathy would enter into a question of whether the lower court ruling correctly interpreted U.S. law.

At 5/20/2009 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama is very clear that in a legal contest between a rich man and a poor one, the poor one should win, regardless of whether or not the poor litigant is right under the law. That's why he wants you to "empathize" because what matters to him is who the parties are, not whether their cause is right. He wants corporations to always lose, the "rich" to always lose, whites to always lose. Not concidentally, the plaintiff's bar, a huge contributor to Democrat politicians, would be a big winner.

At 5/20/2009 5:19 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

My apologies, I was unclear in my statement. That's what I get for trying to post on a coffee break.

I think it's pretty straightforward statement that black people commit proportionally more crimes than white people in the U.S.

I also think it's pretty straightforward to say that our justice system is, like any construct of man, flawed.

I DO actually care about whether a person is guilty or not.

I don't have anything to back this up, but I think that innocent black men are found guilty on a per capita basis more often than innocent white men.

I also think that guilty white men are more often found not guilty on a per capita basis than guilty black men.
I hope I'm wrong about both points.

I do not in fact think that the acquittal of a guilty white man and the conviction of a guilty black man is racial inequality and social injustice. as you put it. but if that happens on a consistent and statistically significant basis, then THAT IS racial inequality and social injustice.

I also think it is unfair that the same drug in two different forms that have significantly different ethnic customer bases have significantly different sentencing guidelines.

At 5/20/2009 5:35 PM, Blogger QT said...


Very interesting. Was not aware of the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine. Agree with you on that one.

At 5/20/2009 7:46 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/20/2009 8:27 PM, Blogger Kraut said...

I'd also like to point out some issues with the ACLU article:

1. It only refers to drug-related "convictions," but does not clarify whether these are dealing-related or use-related.

2. It refers to Latino and Black convictions related to cocaine while stating that Whites are the biggest users of cocaine. Again, who are the users and who are the dealers?

3. If Blacks are the biggest users of crack and there is a so-called steeper penalty for crack dealing than for cocaine dealing, then actually one could argue that the tougher penalties actually benefit Blacks by trying to go after crack dealers, therefore trying to reduce crack use by Blacks.

At 5/20/2009 8:29 PM, Blogger Kraut said...

I don't disagree with the premise of the "Football Justice" article, but I would like to point out at least one flaw with the argument:

In the NFL, the weakest teams each year are granted the "best" draft picks in an attempt to even the playing field..

At 5/20/2009 9:59 PM, Anonymous Penny said...

Miller, you have had an interesting life. You're an economist, a soldier, and now a paralegal. Have you ever been a bull fighter?

At 5/20/2009 10:33 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/21/2009 7:00 AM, Blogger 1 said...

"Obama, a constitutional lawyer"...

You know QT I've heard a lot about Obama's supposed skills as a constitutional lawyer but I've yet to see anything credible or substantial that proves it...

"The ability to empathize, I would imagine, should be a very important part of being a judge who has to rule on such a variety of issues of with which he may have no real world experience"...

Oh really? You buy the Obama line then?

"Funny, it is usually people whom have never had any experience with the crueler conditions of life are the ones to blanket the ones that are forced into those lives with generalities of being needy and wanting handouts"...

You mean its a good thing to pander to societal parasites and losers?

"Statistically, the figures that I've seen indicate that the rules are NOT currently being carried out fairly. Blacks, get convicted far more often than whites, and get harsher sentences"...

Blacks also more crime...

At 5/21/2009 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama was an adjunct instructor, not even tenure track, for over a decade. His job title was lecturer. As far as I know, he never tried a case or appeared before any court much less the Supreme Court.

QT is right: Obama is not a leader or even a politician. He is a work of fiction. He's not even as inspirational as Richard Dreyfus in Moon over Parador.

He's no more real than Big Brother and no less deadly.

At 5/21/2009 12:42 PM, Anonymous Penny said...

Miller, So you were never a bull fighter? I'm not impressed by all the other stuff.

At 5/21/2009 1:02 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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