I just read David Brook's column, "In Defense of Empathy" and found it very insightful and germane to so many of life's critical decisions. His basic premise is that empathy is not only potentially helpful in making suitable decisions but an absolute necessity. His hypothesis is that people without emotional empathy cannot make sensible decisions because they don't know how much anything is really worth.
For David Brooks, it's whether Sonia Sotomayor is able to understand and manage her own emotions in the decision-making process that will predict whether she will be a prudent and judicious member of the Supreme Court. It will be her ability to empathize the specific context of each case while valuing gradual change, small steps and modest self-restraint.
It's both my experience and belief that empathy is a critical component in effectively dealing with life's decisions if we want to produce satisfactory and personally relevant consequences. This is true in most contexts--not just the judicial system. For example in my work dealing with the psychology of prudent money management, I've discovered that those individuals who understand how to effectively manage their emotions make more appropriate and satisfactory decisions. They not only accumulate more wealth, but they are also more satisfied in how they use their wealth.
This prudent and effective money management process is developed over time and with sufficient self-analysis, reflection and focus. The financial decisions are made within the context or framework of what's preferable, meaningful and most advantageous both in the short and long-term.
I totally agree with David Brooks that emotional empathy should be defended. "It's not whether judges rely on emotion and empathy, it's how they educate their sentiments within the discipline of manners and morals, tradition and practice." He understands that emotions can be a wise guide in some circumstances while a deceiver in others and what it takes to make it an asset.