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Archive for the ‘Supreme Court cases’ Category

ricciIn Ricci v DeStefano (2009) the American  Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut were denied promotion based on their race. It has become a well-known case of reverse racism.

Ricci was the lead firefighter in the case; DeStefano was the mayor of New Haven.

This overturns Judge Sotomayor’s decision in a lower court. The case made the press in part because the right was using it to frame Sotomayor as a racist.

The white justices were evenly split, 4 to 4. Clarence Thomas, the only black judge on the court and once the head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Reagan, sided with the white firefighters. But he did not write a decision as he often does in civil rights cases.

The decision could make it harder to prove racism in hiring since it will have to be based more on motive (hard to prove) and less on outcome (much easier to show).

In 2003 New Haven gave a test for open positions for lieutenant and captain in its fire department. No blacks scored high enough, even though they had on past tests. New Haven threw out the test fearing blacks would take it to court for using a racist test. Blacks could have done that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – and most likely would have since the new test favoured whites more than even past tests did.

But it was a no-win: when the city threw out the test, the white firefighters who had scored high took it to court – for reverse racism.

Frank Ricci spent 8 to 13 hours a day studying for the test and spent over $1,000 to buy the books and get them read onto tape since he has trouble reading.

But before you cry for him, first guess how many of the 21 captains in the New Haven fire department are black. Answer: 1. Just one: 5% in a city that is 37% black.

Justice Kennedy, who wrote the decision, joined by Roberts, Alito and Thomas, said that New Haven had no “strong basis in evidence” to fear a lawsuit and, even so:

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 Ginsburg, writing the dissent, said of the white firefighters:

they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them.

Ginsburg thought New Haven was right to fear a lawsuit. She found it laughable that the city, given its history, was racist against whites.

That the right picked this case to accuse Sotomayor of racism is unfair. First, in most cases regarding racism in employment she rules against blacks and Hispanics. No word about those. Second, in Ricci she was merely part of a panel which let a lower court decision stand. She did not write an opinion as to why.

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