Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

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.

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2 Responses to “Sotomayor: The Ricci case”

  1. Update: The Supreme Court has overturned Sotomayor’s ruling by a 5-4 vote that broke along the usual ideological lines, with moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy siding this time with the conservatives and writing the majority opinion.
    You can read the decision, the Court’s Opinion, and the concurring and dissenting opinions here: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-1428.pdf

    That’s a lot of material and I only read a little of it, but it seems clear that New Haven’s action in dismissing the results of the test was not based on an actual belief that their test was in fact discriminatory, but simply because they were trying to avoid being sued. The Court ruled that the city is not allowed to reverse discriminate against the white and Hispanic firefighters who passed the test simply to avoid a lawsuit, but must have solid evidence of disparate impact.

  2. Update: Frank Ricci and his fellow firefighters finally got their promotions today. In addition to Ricci and the other 13 plaintiffs, another 10 firefighters (including four minorities) who took the same exam are also being promoted:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091210/ap_on_re_us/us_firefighters_lawsuit

    I can think of no better closure than Ricci’s comments before the Senate during Justice Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. The lower court’s ruling against his suit “divides people who don’t wish to be divided along racial lines…achievement is neither limited nor determined by one’s race but by one’s skills, dedication, commitment and character.”

    Amen.

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