Washington lawmakers are reacting to today’s Supreme Court racial discrimination decision ruling in favor of New Haven firefighters who passed a civil service test for awarding promotions. And one Republican is already saying Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s role in the lower court decision in Ricci v. DeStefano should be an issue in her confirmation process.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee should carefully examine Judge Sotomayor’s role in the Second Circuit’s opinion on this case,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “Discrimination and racial preferences have no place in our courts, let alone on the highest court in the land.”
But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, who will lead the confirmation hearings for Sotomayor beginning in two weeks, cautioned against drawing too much from her role in the unsigned per curiam lower court ruling.
“Judge Sotomayor and the lower court panel did what judges are supposed to do, they followed precedent,” Leahy stated. “It is notable that four justices would have upheld the Second Circuit’s ruling, including the retiring Justice Souter, who Judge Sotomayor is nominated to replace.”
The Court ruled that city officials could not dismiss the test results after only two minority firefighters passed. The city officials said they feared certifying the test results would subject them to Title VII disparate impact racial discrimination liability, but the Court ruled the dismissal of the results itself violated Title VII because it was race based.
In his statement, Leahy complained that the decision “interprets the critical protections of Title VII in a way never intended by Congress when it passed this landmark law to prevent workplace discrimination more than 40 years ago.”
“Today’s narrow decision is likely to result in cutbacks on important protections for American families,” Leahy said. “It is less likely now that employers will conscientiously try to fulfill their obligations under this time-honored civil rights law. This is a cramped decision that threatens to erode these protections and to harm the efforts of state and local governments that want to build the most qualified workforces.”
But Smith praised today’s Court ruling.
“No individual should be denied a promotion simply based on the color of their skin,” Smith’s statement said. “The Second Circuit wrongly upheld a decision that supports discrimination by the government. The Supreme Court today reminded all courts and governments that equal justice under the law means refusing to tip the scale in favor of one race over another.”