On the chance that you’re not familiar with the case in question, here’s a quick run-down…
- In 2003 the city of New Haven, CT, held a written exam for job promotions with the New Haven Fire Department, which had active vacancies in leadership positions (lieutenants & captains).
- The city was already bound by an agreement with the firefighters union that the exam would account for 60 percent of the decision of whether to promote a candidate, as well as by an existing city charter rule required that every promotion go to one of the three top-scoring candidates.
- The test the city used was designed by an Illinois company, Industrial/Organizational Solutions, which specializes in public safety-related examination material, and which routinely scrubs its assessments for possible racial bias to protect public safety agencies from potential civil rights complaints.
- 19 Black, 43 White, and 15 Hispanic firefighters took the test for promotion to lieutenant
- 6 Black, 25 White, and 3 Hispanic candidates passed that test.
- When the city saw the disparity in the passing-percentages among the different racial groups (32% of Blacks, 58% of Whites & 20% of Hispanics had passed) they chose to throw out the test entirely, rather than have a larger proportion of promotions go to White firefighters – fearing ‘discrimination’ lawsuits from Black firefighters, under Title-VII of the Civil Rights Act .
(note: I’m not sure how they would have avoided that circumstance in any case, given that more than 2x as many Whites sat for the exam in the first place – apply the pass rate of either group to both groups, and the disparity of the end-numbers would be just as glaring.)
(2nd Note: According to a WSJ article “A representative of the black firefighters association told the New Haven civil service board that the tests were irrelevant, since they measure only the “ability to read and retain.” – Last time I checked, the ‘ability to read and retain’ correlated strongly to success at education in general, so what’s he really tryin’ to say?)
- Firefighter Frank Ricci (who gave up a second job to make time to study, paid for tutors at his own personal expense and emerged with the 6th highest test score) sued the city of New Haven, stating that the city had thrown out the exam scores and declined to promote anyone solely because too many Whites had passed the exam.
- Ricci’s suit was denied in the District Court of Connecticut – and the denial was upheld in the Court of Appeals by a 3-judge panel that included current Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
As it turns out, Sotomayor and her associates didn’t just uphold the District Court’s decision – they upheld it with a single-paragraph per-curiam that revisited none of the lower courts original findings, and instead simply accepted that judgment and its justifications in total.
Including this bit, resurrected by Justice Kennedy from the original decision:
“As the District Court put it, the City rejected the test results because “too many whites and not enough minorities would be promoted were the lists to be certified.” 554 F. Supp. 2d, at 152; see also ibid. (respondents’ “own arguments . . . show that the City’s reasons for advocating non-certification were related to the racial distribution of the results”).” (SCOTUS Decision, page 19)
…which, according to the agreement-on-all-points paragraph, was a rationalization that Sotomayor considered to be “thorough, thoughtful and well reasoned”
Not that this is terribly surprising, as looking through a brief synopsis of her more important legal decisions reveals a history apparently more firmly based in ‘feelings’ than in legal detail (current arguments of “a 60% reversal rate is lower than the average” are meaningless when you consider how unlikely it is for a case to find its way past the clerks and to the SCOTUS in the first place).
But the best, foolishness-slicing slap-down comes in Justice Alito’s concurring opinion:
“Petitioners were denied promotions for which they qualified because of the race and ethnicity of the firefighters who achieved the highest scores on the City’s exam. The District Court threw out their case on summary judgment, even though that court all but conceded that a jury could find that the City’s asserted justification was pretextual.
The Court of Appeals then summarily affirmed that decision. The dissent grants that petitioners’ situation is “unfortunate” and that they “understandably attract this Court’s sympathy.” Post, at 1, 39.
But “sympathy” is not what petitioners have a right to demand.
What they have a right to demand is evenhanded enforcement of the law—of Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on race. And that is what, until today’s decision, has been denied them.” (Justice Alito’s concurring opinion, page 13/.pdf-54)
So, while we can be glad that justice has prevailed in this SCOTUS decision, the details of the case also highlight the growing concerns about Barack Obama’s SCOTUS appointee – Sotomayor’s agreement with New Haven’s decision that race-discriminating against Whites dovetails a little too completely with her much-repeated “wise Latina” comments – perhaps completing a picture of someone whose views and decisions are too heavily influenced be her personal feelings and opinions on race, and who has no place on the highest court of the land.