Can a Supreme Court justice ever be objective? Can empiricism help answer this age-old question?

Can a Supreme Court justice ever be objective?

Well, if “objective” is “reasonable,” and “reasonable” is the “average person,” then a Supreme Court justice may be quite objective. However, if “objective” is devoid of value-motivated cognition, then justices, who are incapable of arising above their humanness, may never be objective.

By the way, “value-motivated cognition refers to the tendency of people to resolve factual ambiguities in a manner that generates conclusions congenial to self-defining values.” Dan M. Kahan, David A. Hoffman & Donald Braman, Whose Eyes Are you Going to Believe? Scott v. Harris and the Perils of Cognitive Illiberalism, 122 Harv. L. Rev. 837, 903 (2009), available at

In Whose Eyes Are you Going to Believe?, three law professors conducted an empirical study to show how “facts” are viewed. The professors found that people tend to judge “facts” according to their individual experiences, and that even “reasonable” members of society may develop viewpoints that diverge from the “statistical” average.

The impetus for this study: Justice Scalia’s conclusion in Scott v. Harris, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 1776 (2007) that the “[r]espondent’s version of events is so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him.”

See the video record yourself at the Supreme Court’s website: (Scroll down to R-37 and note the Court’s link to the police chase video posted along with its slip opinion.)

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