Monday, July 13, 2009

Is it the result or the journey?

Did you ever try to find your way to a place without having good directions? You know that your destination is somewhere "over there a ways" but you're not sure of what roads to take or where to turn. So you generally fumble around, maybe taking a wrong turn (or two). You might never find your destination, and may have to settle for someplace you really don't want to be. Even if you eventually do find the place you want to go; your journey has been long and convoluted.

I think that, most of the time, judges who are "results-oriented" are like a traveller who does not have (or refuses to follow) good results to reach her destination. A "results-oriented" judge knows how she want to rule; but often has to twist the law and take convoluted logic to get the desired result. A "results-oriented" judge will let policy, politics, or empathy drive her decision, rather than follow the law to a conclusion. A "results-oriented" judge may pay lip service to the law, but does not truly respect it.

I had the good fortune to work for a wonderful Federal appellate judge; one who takes the facts of the case and applies the law to those facts to reach a decision. Although the results of a case are important, he doesn't let the results drive the decision....the law does that. The law, statute and precedent, gives the directions for his legal journey. Now don't get me wrong, he is well aware of the impact the decisions he makes will have and how those decisions might drive policy; but he nevertheless applies the law, as he sees it, to reach his decisions. He does not let the result of his decisions drive how he rules. He is a judge who truly respects the law.

Supreme Court nominee, Sonya Sotomayor, appears to be a "results-oriented" judge. While all judges bring their background, including their legal training and their life experiences, to the bench with them (after all how could you leave who your are at home?), Judge Sotomayor is willing to use her background as a sounding board to determine what result she desires in a case, rather than applying the law to the facts. She wants to rule with "empathy." She wants to make policy. She wants to interpret the law and the Constitution to reflect her idea of what a result should be in a particular case. In this respect, she's like that traveller on a journey without clear directions. She will twist the law and apply convoluted logic in order to reach her destination. This is not the type of Justice we need on the United States Supreme Court. Her desire to reach a specific result, in order to make policy or achieve a political end, doesn't respect the law or the Constitution.

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