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Sessions Worried by Obama’s ‘Empathy Standard’ in Court Nomination

Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said on Saturday that he is increasingly concerned that President Barack Obama is trying to use the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to make the judiciary a more “relativistic” institution.

In his response to Obama’s weekly radio address, Sessions largely avoided criticizing Sotomayor, instead keeping his complaints limited to the broader impact Obama’s philosophy will have on the court.

Citing Obama’s previous claims to want nominees who will have empathy for the poor and minorities, Sessions said he fears “this ‘empathy standard’ is another step down the path to a cynical, relativistic, results-oriented world.”

Specifically, Sessions said he is concerned Obama’s philosophy will lead to a situation in which “words and laws have no fixed meaning, where unelected judges set policy, and where constitutional limits on government power are ignored when they are inconvenient to the powerful.”

Republicans in the Senate this week said that, at least in the short term, they would aim to avoid criticizing Sotomayor and focus their attacks on building a broader case against Obama’s underlying philosophy in picking nominations. According to aides, Republicans would rather avoid any direct attacks on her, at least until the process is further along, considering the GOP has little chance of defeating Sotomayor and the party is wary of angering Latino voters.

As part of that strategy, Republicans have largely held their fire on Sotomayor’s written answers to questions from Sessions and Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) until a full review of her answers is completed.

But while most Senate Republicans are taking a cautious approach, outside conservatives continue to press opposition to Sotomayor. For instance, conservatives and some Republicans have pointed to evidence in her answers indicating that Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment in 2001 was not an isolated misstatement as the White House has claimed, but rather a statement of her belief that race and gender play a pivotal role in how judges approach certain types of cases. While avoiding the kind of rhetoric that caused Senate Republicans serious problems over the last two weeks, conservatives are taking Sotomayor to task for her comments.

Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, said that while he does not believe Sotomayor supports undermining basic traditions of impartiality, at the least her comments show a problem of temperament.

“I do believe that her loose lips problem, exhibited time and again, is indicative of Sotomayor not fully comprehending the profound difference between her role as an activist prior to 1992 and her role as a judge since then. Her blurring of the two roles is reason enough to oppose her elevation to the Supreme Court,” Levey said.

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