— From NBC's Carrie Dann
Speaking at the Planned Parenthood conference in DC this afternoon, Barack Obama leveled harsh words at conservative Supreme Court justices, and he offered his own intention to appoint justices with "empathy." Obama hinted that the court's recent decision in Gonzales v. Carhart -- which upheld a ban on partial-birth abortion -- was part of "a concerted effort to steadily roll back" access to abortions. And he ridiculed Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote that case's majority opinion. "Justice Kennedy knows many things," he declared, "but my understanding is that he does not know how to be a doctor."
Obama also won a laugh at the expense of Chief Justice John Roberts, saying that judgments of Roberts' character during his confirmation hearings were largely superficial. "He loves his wife. He's good to his dog," he joked, adding that judicial philosophy should be weighted more seriously than such evaluations. "We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."
Obama's criticisms fell on eager ears at the conference, where activists assembled today to hear remarks from top Democratic presidential contenders Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth Edwards (appearing in lieu of her husband while he continues his three-day poverty tour.) But his comments also demonstrated how social issues like abortion rights have been eclipsed in many ways by the high emotions of the Iraq war. "At a time when the real war is being fought abroad, [some] would have us fight Culture Wars here at home." But he added smilingly, "I am absolutely convinced that culture Wars are just so '90s. Their days are growing dark."