For the second summer in a row, the US Senate will be considering a nomination to the Supreme Court. If Elena Kagen is confirmed, she would become the third Jewish member of the US Supreme Court, and incredibly, the second Jewish woman on the court.
Last year at this time, President Obama nominated Justice Sottomayor. So, for Shavuot, I led a study session on what makes a good judge in our traditional texts. Here are some of the sources we looked at:
(1) Leviticus 19:15. You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly.
Rashi’s Commentary ad loc. Do not favor the poor – Do not say, “This is a poor man, and in any event the rich man has to support him. I will judge in his favor and in that way he will receive some support in a respectable fashion.” Or show deference to the rich – Do not say, “This is a rich man, of noble descent, how can I possibly shame him and witness his shame?”
(2) Deuteronomy 1:16-17. Hear out your fellow men and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no man, for judgment is God’s.
(3) Deuteronomy 17:8-11. If a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy of homicide, civil law, or assault – matters of dispute in your courts – you shall promptly repair to the place that Adonai your God will have chosen, and appear before the Levitical Priests, or the magistrate in charge at the time, and present your problem. When they have announced to you the verdict in the case, you shall carry out the verdict that they announced to you from that place that Adonai chose, observing scrupulously all their instructions to you. You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left.
Rashi’s Commentary ad loc. At the time – Even if he is not like the other judges who were before him, you must listen to him; you have only the judge of your own time. To the right or to the left – Even if he [the judge] tells you regarding the right that it is left, or regarding the left that it is right; and certainly so if he tells you regarding right that it is right and regarding the left that this it is left.