Sotomayor: The Ricci case
Posted by sanityinjection on June 10, 2009
One of the aspects of Judge Sotomayor’s record that has drawn a great deal of scrutiny is her ruling in the Ricci v. DeStefano case. In that case, Sotomayor and two colleagues rejected the appeal of white firefighter Frank Ricci, who sued the city of New Haven for denying him a promotion after he scored well on the city’s promotion test for firefighters. The city refused to grant promotions to Ricci and other white firefighters who scored well upon realizing that black firefighters had scored disproportionately poorly on the test, claiming they feared they would be sued by the black firefighters for discrimination if they did.
Sotomayor has been criticized both for the subtance of her ruling against Ricci (which was upheld by the full appeals court in a 7-6 split and is now headed for the Supreme Court) and for the terse, one-paragraph opinion with which it was given.
I commend to your attention this excellent analysis of the legal issues involved by the WashPost’s Ruth Marcus. While differing somewhat with Sotomayor’s ruling, Marcus points out that under the law New Haven found itself in a position where it could reasonably expect to be sued by one side or the other no matter what it did. The “disparate impact” precedent holds that the city can be found guilty of discrimination even if no intent to discriminate can be shown, if its test results in a disparate impact on a minority group (in this case, blacks) which it clearly seems to.
The Supreme Court may choose to reverse its own previous ruling on “disparate impact”, but arguably Sotomayor’s panel lacked that authority. Still, Judge Sotomayor should be asked to explain why she thought a case this important didn’t deserve an opinion that delved more thoroughly into the legal issues involved.