Like many others, I was horrified to read about the murder of Dr. Tiller in Kansas today. It was of course more than murder -- it was an act of political terrorism. It simply cannot be dismissed as random violence.[*]
Anyway, this violent act also bears quite directly on the whole "empathy" debate. What's interesting about Obama's comments is that the empathy argument doubles as both a populist argument and a high-level theoretical assault on conservative jurisprudence.
One tenet of both originalism and textualism is that consequences of constitutional interpretation should be irrelevant. If you take both theories seriously, then you can't really allow consequences to affect your reasoning. What matters -- the only thing that matters -- is what the text says, or what the text was originally understood to mean. And for now, let's assume that conservatives take these theories seriously (rather than merely using them as window-dressing for political preferences).
The Kansas terrorism illustrates why it's important to look at the real world when interpreting the constitution. For instance, there's a First Amendment dispute about whether and to what extent the government can limit abortion protests outside of clinics.
The argument for aggressive protection (and thus a relaxing of First Amendment scrutiny) is that abortion protests have proven to be historically dangerous. Doctors and staffers and patients face truly dangerous risks -- risks that were tragically reaffirmed today. The law should recognize these concrete dangers and not pretend like these protests come straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting of a townhall meeting. It's fun to argue about free speech in the abstract -- but we don't really have that luxury.
The real world matters. It should be relevant. It's somewhat amazing to have to argue this. But that's where we are.
*[I deleted a line suggesting that people who use extreme anti-abortion rhetoric (e.g., "party of death", "pro-murder") bear some responsibility. I'm not sure how I feel about that -- and I want to think about it more before I post a view on it.]