Sunday, June 14, 2009

Comment: The Home of Empathy

Diana Schaub is professor of political science at Loyola College in Maryland. Today, she has an editorial in the Baltimore Sun entitled, "Why is Empathy the Enemy of Justice?" It is truly one of the very finest editorials on the topic (and pardons) by a political scientist to date.

Schaub notes that "impartiality" has long been "thought" to be a "special quality" of judges - or at least a desired quality. She likens this "aspiration" to something like the search for a "disembodied mind." Although judges "regularly fall short" of the aspiration, Schaub says it is nonetheless "central" to the judicial task. It "enables the courts to be an effective recourse for the lowly and oppressed." It is the "disregard for persons" that establishes the notion of "equality before the law." Etc.

As a result, Schaub argues convincingly enough that the proper "home of empathy" is in the political branches of government. After all, it is the explicit duty of legislators (both state and federal) to empathize with, and represent, the "passions and concerns" of constituents. Likewise:
The chief executive is granted perhaps the most unique exercise of empathy: the power to pardon. Mercy and clemency belong to him, to be used as a corrective when the rigor of the law - as applied in a particular case - is too great. President Obama would be well-advised to reserve this constitutional prerogative for himself. Instead, there seems to be an increasing reluctance on the part of executives to use the pardon (other than midnight pardons of their cronies), which bespeaks yet another corruption of the separation of powers.
To which PardonPower says, "BRAVO!" See the full Schaub editorial here.

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