both sides of the issue before him. Indeed, the only way for a judge to try to remove his or her own biases, is to try to understand the case from the perspective of the litigants in the case. That is the meaning of empathy.
Empathy does not mean putting aside the law and trying to reach a pre-determined result. The best example of that I can think of is Justice Scalia's decision in the infamous Bush v. Gore. Anyone who thinks that only liberals are result-oriented should re-read that decision. Empathy also does not mean that you necessarily adopt the view of the widow or orphan in the case before you. Empathy means that you put yourself in the position of both of the litigants in the case. A good judge needs to be empathetic to the interests of business as well as the interests of labor, to the interests of the state as well as the interests of the individual. Being empathetic is not only critical to reaching a fair result, it is also essential to understanding the impact of court rulings on real human beings, which is another quality generally thought essential to judging.
Now that potential opponents of President Obama's judicial appointments are intent on turning "empathy" into a bad word, what is next? How about compassion? Patience? Equanimity? How about justice itself? If you really believe that all that matters is the cold letter of the law, and no human feeling should play any part in judicial decision-making; if you think that we can somehow interpret the letter of a statute or the Constitution without giving any thought to how those interpretations will play out in the real world, then we should really try to find a way to create robots that can act as judges, and all of the human qualities which have repeatedly been invoked by great judges in history should fall by the wayside.