Sotomayor Decision Overturned

June 29th, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today on Ricci v. DeStefano, an appeal of a decision of a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Judge Sonia Sotomayor, now a Supreme Court nominee, was a member of the three-judge panel and joined in the decision that has now been overturned.  As reported,

The Supreme Court ruled Monday 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. …

“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.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented from the decision, writing in her dissent,

…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.”

The decision of the Second Circuit, which Judge Sotomayor joined, was brief to the point of being dismissive of the firefighters’ claim of discrimination, as noted:

…the appellate judges have been criticized for producing a cursory opinion that failed to deal with “indisputably complex and far from well-settled” questions, in the words of another appeals court judge, Sotomayor mentor Jose Cabranes.

“This perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented by this appeal,” Cabranes said, in a dissent from the full 2nd Circuit’s decision not to hear the case.

The Supreme Court’s decision is correct; the city’s action was discriminatory on the basis of race and ethnicity.  Given that fact, it’s disappointing to see a 5-4 decision.  And Justice Ginsburg’s dissent makes it very clear that in her opinion, race-neutral merit selection for employment-related actions is flawed if it doesn’t result in some kind of predetermined success rate — quotas, in effect.  That’s sad, and it indicates the direction the court will likely take if it’s composition becomes more leftist over the next few years.

That said, I continue to support the confirmation of Judge Sotomayor.  The voters put President Obama in the White House, and they gave Democrats the majority in Congress.  This is the nominee of their choice, and they should get what they want.  The fact that she may sometimes think considerations of race and class should trump the law and individual rights is no surprise.  And, when you consider the mixed quality of black-robed butts occupying federal benches across the land, she’s not so bad.

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