For Obama, Empathy Means Imagination

President Obama is keen on choosing a Supreme Court justice who possesses the quality of  "imagination," a senior administration official said yesterday.

To Obama, that means someone who can see beyond the legal formalism that characterizes most court decisions and deliberations.

The official said that this is what Obama meant by "empathy" -- a capacity to relate to real world experiences, a capacity to bring, when relevant, non-legal perspectives into the court.

And someone -- importantly -- who can help tell a new story about justice and civil rights and the law to the American people, the official said.

Another senior official said that, for Obama, 95% of his decision-making would be based on the quality of the pick's jurisprudence and career, but that that final five percent -- the intangibles -- would be quite important. 

Obama has interviewed at least two potential picks so far, meeting with Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Judge Diane Wood. Obama knows these two women well -- and, indeed, has pre-existing friendships with most every name on the leaked short list of names.

Some Democratic strategists close to the White House believe that Obama has already made up his mind, but White House officials said yesterday that he had not -- or, at least, he had not told anyone if he had.

So who does this extended definition of empathy implicate? 

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Politics

Just In