Supreme Court overturns Sotomayor’s Ricci decision

The Supreme Court of the United States dealt an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration and their Supreme Court nominee Justice Sonia Sotomayor today by overturning one of her lower decisions.

The WaPo reports:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide, potentially limiting the circumstances in which employers can be held liable for decisions when there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against minorities.

“Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the white firefighters “understandably attract this court’s sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them.”

Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens signed onto Ginsburg’s dissent, which she read aloud in court Monday.

Inexplicably, Sotomayor tried to bury this case and prevent it from moving on to the Supreme Court. Her decision was terribly wrong to begin with and I’m glad justice has prevailed for these firefighters in Connecticut.

The Hartford Courant has more on the background of this case if you’re unfamiliar:

The 20 plaintiffs in Ricci, one of whom is identified as both Hispanic and white, claim that the city’s decision to scrap the examination results before any promotions were made violated their rights to be employed in an environment free from racial classification.

All 20 plaintiffs would have qualified for promotion had the test, which the city purchased for $100,000 from a consultant, been used by the city civil service board. No blacks scored high enough to qualify for promotion. The test was divided between written and oral questions.

The city administered the test to 118 candidates, 27 of whom were black. None of the black candidates scored high enough to qualify for 15 immediately available promotions. After a series of raucous meetings, the city civil service board decided to scrap the examination results and promote no one. In subsequent litigation, the city suggested the test was racially biased. It said the decision to scrap the results was “race neutral” because it disadvantaged no one group of test takers more than another.

Karen Lee Torre, the New Haven lawyer who sued on behalf of the firefighters in 2004, reacted sharply to the suggestion that the test was biased. During oral argument, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. remarked sarcastically that the only criticism of the test came from an executive with a competing test preparation firm. The competitor testified at a civil service hearing in New Haven that, even though he had not read the test, he thought he could have designed a better one, Alito pointed out.

“The only thing wrong with the test is that it didn’t suit the political agenda of the mayor of New Haven,” Torre has said. Her reference to Mayor John DeStefano refers to an element of the lawsuit that has been little heard from since the case reached the lofty, legal realm of the Supreme Court.

One of the white firefighter claims is that DeStefano jettisoned the promotional exam to satisfy influential, black political supporters who were pushing for a greater black presence in the fire department’s officer ranks.

Analysts have said Ricci embodies a number of firsts. It is viewed as the most important race and hiring case of the high court’s current term and some speculated it could reshape hiring and promotion policy affecting millions in government and private industry.

President Barack Obama’s nominee for the high court, Sonia Sotomeyor, twice ruled for New Haven and against the white firefighters as a member of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Conservative critics of her nomination have been reviewing her role in the case.

Ricci also is the first case to broadly raise the issue of race and the workplace under the leadership Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. And it is the court’s first examination of race since Obama’s election.

The Obama administration took its first stand on race and civil rights when weighed in once Ricci reached the Supreme Court. The administration sided with New Haven, saying the city was justified in dropping the test if it determined the test had “gross exclusionary effects on minorities.” But it urged the high court to send the case back to U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven for trial to allow the 20 plaintiffs an opportunity to argue that the city acted with a discriminatory motive.

There were no “gross exclusionary effects on minorities” as the administration alleges, that is total nonsense. This case is all about playing to the liberal constituents. Had all minorities passed the exam, there wouldn’t even have been a case. This all comes down to merit and whether we should truly be judged on our character, not our color as Dr. Matin Luther King, Jr. espoused.

The Department was afraid of being sued because not enough minorities passed the exam, though everyone taking the exam had the same opportunities and the same learning material before the test. The men who passed had simply done their homework and were prepared for this exam yet the city scrapped the test fearing racial repercussions.

How ironic that Sotomayor’s record of being overturned has grown while she’s still in the nomination process to sit on the bench of the very court which overturned her.

Sotmayor should be embarrassed at this ruling as should the Obama administration. For everyone else, it is nothing but good news as the SCOTUS reaffirmed some semblance of a meritocracy in this country.

Read the full decision here: RICCI ET AL. v. DESTEFANO ET AL. (PDF)