In today’s Inquirer, there is the heartwarming story of dedicated lawyers willing to abandon their high-powered careers and commensurate salaries to fight for a few, precious judicial spots in Philadelphia. I’m humbled at the altruism of my colleagues who, undeterred by ‘not recommended’ ratings from the Bar Association, want to bring their wisdom to the bench.
Sarcasm aside, I have a great deal of respect for the judiciary, although not every member of it. I once clerked for a state appellate court, and had the opportunity to observe the heights-and depths-of the legal profession. Mostly, there were heights with a few unforgettable ditches.
To me, a judge only needs to be concerned with applying the law in a neutral manner. Justice is indeed blind, which means that Rich Men, Poor Men, Beggar Men and Thieves should receive equal treatment. That also means, at least to this lawyer, that a judge needs to keep his or her own personal prejudices at the courtroom door.
Sometimes, though, prejudice is a loaded word. When Sonia Sotomayor talked about how being a wise Latina would give her an edge on the bench, I saw that as a bias, while many others thought it was simply an example of how her personal experience would enhance her ability to do justice. They pointed out that Samuel Alito made similar comments about being an Italian. But being proud of your heritage is a lot different than implying it would make you a better judge (or a better anything, frankly.)
So I was sad to read that one of the candidates for a judgeship, an out lawyer with an impressive resume with the District Attorney’s office, is making a big deal about his sexual orientation in his quest to become a judge. Christopher Mallios believes that gay people need to vote for gay candidates for public office, because that is the only way they can be sure someone who cares about their issues will be in a position to help them. This is what he had to say in a recent article in the Philadephia Gay News:
There’s a real difference between electing someone who’s gay-friendly and someone who’s actually gay. We’ve seen time and time again people who say they support our issues and then when push comes to shove and it looks like that could be politically difficult, that support vanishes. That’s not me. And the best way to make a difference in government — whether in the legislative, executive or judicial branches — is to have more openly LGBT people there
Maybe it’s just me, but the fact that an aspiring judge is actually out there (no pun intended) saying that you really need to be ‘gay’ and not just ‘gay friendly’ to truly serve the community (hetero and gay alike) is as unsettling as Sonia Sotomayor saying that white men wouldn’t ‘get’ certain issues the same way she did. The law is the law, and it is supposed to apply equally to every person that seeks its protection.
Which is why I was even more upset after reading a comment from another aspiring judge named Vince Giusini, who tried to curry favor with the gay community by recalling how Italians had been persecuted in the past.
As an Italian, I don’t need anybody telling me that there was discrimination against my ethnicity. But I’m sure a non-Italian would be just as sympathetic to my concerns if, say, I was robbed and beaten and was seeking justice in the court system. In much the same way, a gay person would not need to be seen by an 'out' judge if he or she wanted comprehensive justice. To presume otherwise denotes a troubling lack of confidence in our legal system.
So this whole ‘empathy’ idea is, with all due respect to our future judges, ridiculous.
And once you start talking about discrimination, you then get into a race to see who’s suffered the worst, and the scales are tipped a little bit this way, a little bit that way, until all of a sudden you start handing out customized justice, designed to fit you and your particular historical grievance like a glove.
Giusini fell right into this trap when he made the following observation:
I was not in any way trying to equate discrimination of Italian Americans with that of the LGBT or blacks or other minorities," Giusini later said. "I was telling that story to underscore that as an Italian American, I know what discrimination is."
Right. We all have to confirm that we know what discrimination is. We all have to establish our 'victim' creds. But God forbid we should think the Italians had it worse than some of those other minorities out there. Because when it comes to equality, some of us are more equal than others.