July 16th, 2009
04:17 PM ET
5 years ago

New Haven firefighter blasts Sotomayor for ruling 'along racial lines'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - New Haven, Connecticut, firefighter Frank Ricci - the lead plaintiff in perhaps the most controversial case involving Judge Sonia Sotomayor - said Thursday that Sotomayor's rejection of his reverse discrimination claim had undermined the concept of a merit-based civil service system.

Ricci was one of a group of 20 mostly white firefighters who sued the city of New Haven after the city threw out the results of a 2003 firefighter promotion exam because almost no minorities qualified for promotions.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals - including Sotomayor - backed the city in the 2008 case Ricci v. DeStefano. The ruling of the Circuit Court was overturned in June by a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The "belief that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics is flawed," Ricci told the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"It only divides people who don't wish to be divided along racial lines. The very reason we have civil service rules is to root out politics, discrimination, and nepotism. Our case demonstrates that these ills will exist if the rules of merit and the law are not followed."

Ricci also criticized Sotomayor's 2nd Circuit for disposing "of our case in an unsigned, unpublished summary order that consisted of a single paragraph."

Sotomayor was not present when Ricci spoke. She left the session after concluding her remarks earlier Thursday.

Sotomayor argued before committee members Tuesday that her ruling in the Ricci case was decided on the basis of "a very thorough, 78-page decision by the district court" and followed an "established precedent."

"This was not quota case or (an) affirmative action case," she argued. The case was a challenge to a firefighter test that had a wide range of difference between the pass and failure rate of different groups. The city of New Haven, she noted, was at risk of being sued by employees who could show they were "disparately impacted" by the test.

New Haven city officials, after a number of days of hearings, decided they wouldn't certify the test, but would instead attempt to develop a test of equal value in measuring a candidate's qualifications without having a disparate impact, she noted.

The question before the 2nd Circuit, Sotomayor said, was whether the city's decision was based on race or its understanding of what the law required it to do. The Circuit Court ruled that it was based on the latter.

Based on established legal precedent, the 2nd Circuit decided that the city's decision was proper under established law. The Supreme Court, however, applied a new standard, she said, based on a different area of law. If she were ruling on that case today, she said, she would be bound by the new standards set by the Supreme Court.

Ricci was one of several witnesses who testified both for and against Sotomayor.

Linda Chavez, head of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action, argued that "it is clear" from Sotomayor's record "that she has drunk deep from the well of identity politics." It is impossible for Sotomayor to be a fair judge, Chavez claimed, when she has "shown a willingness to let her policy preferences guide her"

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel testified on Sotomayor's behalf, arguing that her opinion in the Ricci was case, in fact, an example of judicial restraint. It followed a string of legal precedents, he claimed, dating back almost three decades.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also testified in favor of Sotomayor, telling committee members that she is an "independent jurist" with "sharp and agile mind" who would bring "a wealth of unique experience" to the high court.


Filed under: Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. chevy

    If only the Black firefighters passed do we really think that the test would have been thrown out?

    Hypothetical – What if I were one of 2 non-black firefighters in a department of 4 going for 2 available promotions. If I and my white friend decided to sit around, drink beer and not study, do either of us deserve the promotion against the 2 black individuals that did study? Racism is racism. Study hard and you will be rewarded should be the goal here, not a dumbed down work force, thats pleasing to the politically correct eye.

    And GI Joe. In case you don't know, all of the other judges aren't up for a lifetime appointment in the Supreme Court. Thats why no one is talking about them. Your assumption that people are picking on Sotomayor out of prejudice is simply absurd. Lets keep the discussion intelligent and above the drama. (BTW- I'm hispanic)

    July 16, 2009 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  2. gl, Pittsburgh

    makesUwonder July 16th, 2009 4:23 pm ET

    Amen to these firefighters that knew they were right and did what needed to be done in the face of racism. My hat off to each and every one of them!

    This is HYPOCRITE AT IS BEST, DISCRIMINATION IS OKAY AS LONG AS IT IS NOT AGAINST WHITES. BLACKS HAVE BEEN AND STILL ARE BEING DISCRIMNATED AGAINST, BUT IT IS NOT BIG DEAL RIGHT! ALL THIS SCREAMING BECASUE IT HAVE HAPPEN TO ONE OF THEIR OWN WHITE MAN – HYPOCRIET AT IT BEST! GOP–RIP!
    NO BLACKS VOTE OR LATIN VOTES FOR CENTURY TO COME..

    July 16, 2009 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  3. Expat American

    What is a non-minority in the United States of America? Is a non-minority a white person or the Native Americans whose genocide extermination by puritan Christian whites is the very foundation upon which the United States was created?

    July 16, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  4. mike, Seatle, Wa

    Bill, you would have a point if it was to be a regular fire fighter but it was to be promoted so you need to test how well they know information such as regulations. They were all already fire fighters so thier physical ability was not in question for the job.

    July 16, 2009 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  5. Carnell

    It's Funny That Judge Sonia Sotomayor Follows The Precedent Of The Law In The 2nd Circuit Court Ruling Of The New Haven Firefighters Lawsuit....And Because She Didn't Give A Different Ruling Favoring The Firefighters, She's Labeled An Activist. Then When The Supreme Court Gets The Case, They Apply A Whole New Standard Of Law In A 5-4 Vote That Overturned The Lower Courts Decision. Hmm! Who's The Activist(s) Now?

    July 16, 2009 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  6. gl, Pittsburgh

    Ricci was one of a group of 20 mostly white firefighters who sued the city of New Haven after the city threw out the results of a 2003 firefighter promotion exam because almost no minorities qualified for promotions.

    THESE WHITE FIREFIGHTER ARE NOT THE FIRST PERSON TO EVERY BE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST SO WHY ARE THE MAKING THIS LIKE IT IS? HYPROCITE AT IT BEST! GET OVER IT AND MOVE ONE LIKE US BLACK HAD TO DO! THIS WAS ALL SET UP BY THE GOP LINDSAY GRAHM AND JEFF SESSION! I WILL SELL MY HOUSE JUST TO MAKE SURE THESE TWO KING OF THE RACIST PARTY WILL NOT BE RE-ELECTED.

    THESE TWO COULD NOT GET SOTOMAYOR TO MELTED DOWN SO THEY USE THIS RICC!

    July 16, 2009 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  7. chevy

    Does this not apply? If we all look at this issue through the following quote, we would see that it was wrong to even use race as a condition for a promotion. I share Dr. Kings dream.

    "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    July 16, 2009 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  8. Allen from Illinois

    Mike,

    The specifics Sotomayor was trying to descibe were the heart of the case, and would have led to what precedent (one or many) was used. If the GOP Senators would have listened, instead of prejudging her answer and cutting her off, then they would have got an answer. Then they would have understood the difference between the two decisions and why the Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 ruling, established a brand new precedent overturing those used by the lower court. The problem is the GOP did not want an answer, they were to busy scoring points for a politcal election over a year away.

    July 16, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  9. laugh

    to think a few white firefighters were almost denied, l work in the system and walk in many fire houses where they refuse to hire 'darker ones" it is grossly unfair, I look on the walls in the fire houses and see generations of white faces. it's time to be fair.

    July 16, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  10. Liz HB

    If all promotions were based on test performance(s) alone, just about the entire work force in just about every field would be Asian American! And that's the truth!

    July 16, 2009 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  11. rafael

    Could someone tell me who sponsored the firefighters trip to the capitol? ...on another note I would really love for this country to done away with affirmative action programs so republicans can run a real platform and address the real problems affecting this country

    July 16, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  12. gl, Pittsburgh

    tom July 16th, 2009 5:09 pm ET

    I live in the south. I can assure Black students are generally put in classes with less efficient teachers. If you want to have equal tests then how about equal rights. The fact that some white boys have been passed up for promotion will take this country another two years to catch up all the black folk who could not advance due to the color of their skin. No blacks above the Rank of Colonel, no blacks to hold rank in the navy, President Wilson wouldn't let blacks in the white house. This didn't happen in 1815 it has happened in my parents life time. Stop judging stuff you have no idea about. Walk in my shoes and then tell me about fair.

    AMEN TO YOUR COMMENT!

    July 16, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  13. Walter

    Sotomayor is obviously slightly biased in her fundamental belief system. I praise her for overcoming great challenges, but this position is not about the adversity in her life, it is all about equity in the application of law. Something she obviously is unable to do based upon the fireman discrimination case.

    My God. Thank her for interviewing and find another candidate. What is the big hurry? Whoever is selected will be there most likely for the duration of their natural life. CHOOSE SLOWLY AND WISELY. This is not the drive-thru line at McDonald's.

    July 16, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  14. Manny BLUM, Bernalillo

    Besides SOTOMAYOY, onw jugw of appeal and 4 justices voted as she did,. 1 juge of appeal and 5 justices did not, showing that theproblem had not a clear solution.

    Meaning, that 50% of the other involved judges shared her opinion. Why Mr. RIcci does not blast all these and concentrates on her??

    July 16, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  15. Maria - Proud Democrat

    He makes a good point.....

    Rulings like the one of Ms. Sotomayor only work to creat racial tension where none existed before.

    July 16, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
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