By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of white firefighters who claimed they were discriminated against by the city of New Haven, Conn., reversing a decision by Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Many believe the decision proves that Sotomayor’s personal biases in favor of gender and ethnicity will negatively impact her decisions on the bench.
The case, Ricci vs. DeStefano, concerned the city of New Haven which threw out the results of a promotion test for firefighters because no African Americans and only two Hispanics would have qualified for promotions. The city said it feared a lawsuit from minorities under federal laws that said such “disparate impacts” on test results could be used to show discrimination.
The white firefighters filed suit, saying their rights had been violated under both the law and the Constitution’s protections of due process, but the case was thrown out by a District Judge who believed the city was justified in scrapping the test.
The case then went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, where Sotomayor and judges Robert Sack and Rosemary S. Pooler heard the appeal. But instead of issuing a detailed and signed opinion, the panel said in a brief summary that, although it was “not unsympathetic” to the plight of the white firefighters, it unanimously affirmed the lower court’s decision for “reasons stated in the thorough, thoughtful, and well-reasoned opinion.”
The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court where, by a 5-4 vote, the justices decided that in the New Haven case, the decision to avoid discrimination against one group amounted to actual discrimination against another.
“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,” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy for the majority.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the dissenters on the court, saying the decision knocks the pegs from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. “Congress endeavored to promote equal opportunity in fact, and not simply in form,” she wrote. “The damage today’s decision does to that objective is untold.”
The New Haven case has become a lightening rod for opposition to Sotomayor’s nomination to the high court, a choice that has been marked by controversy ever since evidence emerged that Judge Sotomayor had a strong bias in favor of gender and ethnicity which she allowed to influence her rulings.
Mario Diaz, Esq., Policy Director for Legal Issues at Concerned Women for America (CWA), told the Christian News Wire that Sotomayor’s decision in the New Haven case “exposes not only bias, but arrogance on the part of a judge at the brink of getting a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land . . . Looking at her record, it seems her passion for minorities is such that she would need to recuse herself from any case involving a minority party in litigation.”
CWA President Wendy Wright agrees, “This decision sends a disturbing message that Sonia Sotomayor, as a judge, sanctioned discrimination against people because of the color of their skin. This validates concerns that Judge Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy reflects her personal bias, as expressed in speeches and the controversial groups to which she has belonged, that people should be discriminated against based on their ethnicity or sex.
“No one in a burning building cares if their fire chief is a minority. A firefighter’s qualifications can determine if innocent people will live or die. Yet Judge Sotomayor denied qualified firefighters a promotion in order to advance her ethnic politics. Judge Sotomayor’s decision in the Ricci case proves that questions about her fitness to serve at the Supreme Court are legitimate. Her decisions suggest such an enormous bias in her philosophy that we could not fault anyone in her courtroom for questioning her impartiality.”
Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings are scheduled to being on July 13.
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