Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Supreme Court Ruling Reverses Decision by Nominee Sonia Sotomayor

The Supreme Court today narrowly ruled in favor of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn. who said they were denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision made by Judge Sonia Sotomayor and others that has come to be a to play a large role in the consideration of her nomination for the high court. The final vote was 5-4.

The New Haven case, known as Ricci v. DeStefano, has become the one case in Sotomayor’s record that conservatives are pointing to as evidence that she lets her ethnic background influence her decisions.

The city of New Haven had thrown out the results of a promotion test because no African Americans and only two Hispanics would have qualified for promotions. The city is said to have feared a lawsuit from minorities under federal laws which state that “disparate impacts” on test results could be used to show discrimination.

The lead plaintiff, Frank Ricci, is a veteran firefighter who said in sworn statements that he spent thousands of dollars in preparation and studied for months for the exam. Ricci said he is dyslexic, so he had tapes made of the test materials and listened to them on his commute to work.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said, “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 Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the liberals on the court and said the decision knocks the pegs from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Ginsburg said, “Congress endeavored to promote equal opportunity in fact, and not simply in form. The damage today’s decision does to that objective is untold.”

(this paragraph refers to a completely different case.)Senate hearings on her nomination are set to begin in two weeks.

Initially, the white firefighters filed suit saying their rights had been violated under both the law and the Constitution’s protections of due process. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton dismissed their suit before it went to trial. She said in her 47-page decision that the city was justified under the law in junking the test, even if it could not explain its flaws. 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. Oral arguments, in which Sotomayor led the questioning, lasted an hour.

Rather than issuing a detailed 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 has drawn national attention because of the sympathetic nature of the claim brought by the firefighters who said they were discriminated against simply because of the color of their skin.

Washington Post

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