Sunday, October 9, 2011

For those who say that empathy plays no role in judging . . .

I wonder whether President Obama's critics on the right have seen the Times' piece today about Judge Denny Chin.  Judge Chin was a federal district judge in Manhattan for 16 years who was elevated by President Obama to the Second Circuit last year.  This is a terrific account of some of the nuance and idiosyncrasies of being a judge, particularly at the sentencing stage.  I have never doubted that those who argue that empathy plays no rule in judging are clearly pursuing a political agenda; nothing could be farther from the truth.  This piece makes this point clearly and poignantly.  Two particular passages stuck with me.  In one, Judge Chin makes clear that sentencing people is not an easy thing to do:
“It is just not a natural or everyday thing to do, . . . to pass judgment on people, to send them to prison or not. I mean, there is so much at stake,  . . . and there are so many different considerations that come into play.”
In the second, he explains why sentencing is particularly hard for a judge: 
“That’s why it makes it so hard. You can’t predict the future. You don’t know what’s going to happen. . . . You do what you think is best for the defendant, for society, and you hope it works out.”
This is a must-read piece for anyone interested in the debate over empathy in judging.  I don't think one can come away from it believing that this is a debate at all.  Of course empathy matters and plays a role in judicial decision-making.  To suggest otherwise is to engage in deception.  

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