For centuries, Western civilization has tried to achieve equal justice under the law. Does the requirement of empathy in a judge mean Lady Justice must now take off her blindfold? Is this a change for the better or not?
The President’s insistence on empathy as a quality in a good judge can claim biblical precedent. When Solomon began his rule, he prayed at Gibeon. He asked God not for riches and wealth, but for “an understanding heart, to govern [his] people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kgs 3:9). God granted him his request for empathy and his judgments became legendary.
In 1 Kings 3:16-28, the Scriptures relate an example story of Solomon’s ability to judge because he was empathetic. One day, two prostitutes came before Solomon. They both had a son, but one son died. Each woman claimed that the son that was alive was hers. Solomon was empathetic to the feeling of the true mother. He knew that she would prefer her son to live. And, so when he proposed cutting the live child in half and giving each woman half, the heart of the true mother was revealed. She preferred the other woman to have her son alive rather than each to be given half his dead body.
Solomon as a judge was empathetic. It was his “understanding heart” that saved the life of the child of a marginalized woman who was a true mother. “The wisdom of God was in him to do judgment” (1 Kgs 3:28).
Is Solomon the appropriate paradigm for the role of judge today? It is good to remember that the empathy that served Solomon well was not something he acquired on his own through training or experience. It was a gift that God gave him in answer to his prayer. Furthermore, Solomon was not limited to one role in governing his people. He was king and legislator as well as judge and last court of appeal.
(Column continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Centuries have passed. Today in our democratic society, many people would be very uncomfortable in trusting to one individual, no matter how wise or spiritual, all the power that Solomon wielded in his day. We are in an imperfect world. In such a world, we have a system where the legislator is separate from the judge and where rights are guaranteed by law.
Courts decide between the guilty and the innocent. Courts do not make the laws. They make their decisions on the basis of rights guaranteed in the law. Therefore, in a court of law, economic condition, sexual orientation, educational background can never be the determining factors. If a judge is to give special consideration in his decision to his own empathy, the question then arises, to which party in a case should he be empathetic? Would this be the death knell to impartiality? Will we suffer the tyranny of the courts where judges refashion our society according to their own opinion or political agenda?
Legislators elected by the people make the laws. Judges appointed by the government apply them. The distinction works. Lady Justice is blindfolded. But if the blindfold is going to be removed by a President who makes empathy a requirement for Supreme Court judges, will we have judges like Solomon? Will we finally have judges, as in the case of Solomon, with “an understanding heart,” judges who recognize a true mother always safeguards the life of her child? Will we have judges who protect the life of children, even those not yet born? Without empathy to those most vulnerable, there is no justice for all.