Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor and Ricci v DeStefano

The Ricci v. DeStefano case came to my attention a month or so ago after a friend and I had a fairly lively (and unrelated) discussion about "reverse" discrimination, and subsequently caught an article about it on CNN. It's back in the spotlight today because it ended up in front of our newest Supreme Court nominee in the US Court of Appeals Second Circuit, which ultimately upheld the lower court decision. The case is now sitting in front of the Supreme Court.

Here's the background (from the Second Circuit documents):

In 2003, 118 applicants took examinations for promotion to Captain and Lieutenant in the New Haven (Ct.) Fire Department. 56 applicants passed the exam. There were 15 open vacancies. According to the City Charter, civil servant positions must be filled by individuals with the top 3 scores on the exam, which would have resulted in only 2 minority promotions(both Hispanic). Out of concern that the results might indicate that minority applicants weren't given appropriate opportunity, the results of the exam went before the Civil Service Board to be certified before the promotions could be awarded. The CSB held 5 hearings on the issue, and ultimately split 2-2 on the question of certifying the exam (the 5th member was recused, as her brother was one of the candidates up for promotion). As a result, no certification was approved, and no promotions awarded.

The group of firefighters who filed the suit say they've been discriminated against. The District Court decided that no racial discrimination had ocurred because ALL of "the test results were discarded and nobody was promoted" and because neither the city defendants or the CSB had acted with discriminatory motivation toward the non-minority applicants.

There's not much to glean from the Circuit Court decision about the case itself, nor the particular positions of the judges themselves (of which Sotomayor was one), as it is a simple one paragraph affirmation. Given the relative weight of the issues involved, there is some thought that it was dismissively brief.

Regardless of which side of the issue you fall on, it's a fairly fascinating case. Expect to hear more about it as the confirmation process ramps up.

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