Published June 29, 2009
The Connecticut firefighter at the center of a high-stakes court battle told FOX News he feels "vindicated" by the Supreme Court's ruling Monday that he and his mostly white colleagues were unfairly denied promotions because of their skin color.
Meanwhile, the ruling quickly became a political football in Washington as Republicans argued it raises serious questions about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's judgment -- since the opinion reversed a decision she had endorsed in the lower court. The White House pushed back on the criticism Monday afternoon, saying the opinion should not prove an obstacle to Sotomayor's confirmation.
Despite the political implications of the decision, plaintiff Frank Ricci said it had a big impact for him personally.
"We feel vindicated. It's been a long road," he told FOX News, adding that he expects a "promotional ceremony" soon.
Ricci was among the 20 firefighters -- 19 white and one Hispanic -- who sued the city of New Haven, Conn., arguing that they were discriminated against when the city threw out the results of a promotion test after too few minority firefighters scored high.
The city argued its action was prompted by concern that disgruntled black firefighters would sue. But that reasoning didn't hold sway with the court's majority, or Ricci and his colleagues.
Firefighters' attorney Karen Torre told FOX News she was relieved the court has finally "righted" what she described as an unreasonable interpretation of civil rights measures.
"We're very, very pleased that hopefully this decision will put an end to the type of obnoxious, identity politics and race baiting that occurs in workplaces around the country," she said.
Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the 5-4 opinion in favor of Ricci and his fellow firefighters.
It included no specific reference to Sotomayor. But Republicans skeptical of Sotomayor swiftly used it to bolster their case that the high court nominee may let her personal views influence her judicial decisions.
"It was quite a rebuke actually to her and the opinion that was rendered," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told FOX News Radio.
He said the case would be a "matter of importance" and "discussed at some length" during Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, set to begin next month.
"I think it raises questions in the minds of the American people as to whether some of Judge Sotomayor's speeches are being reflected in her opinions in terms of the favoritism for one group or another than might occur," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released a statement saying the decision underscores his concern that Sotomayor "may have allowed her personal or political agenda to cloud her judgment and affect her ruling."
The Obama administration and Democratic allies in the Senate, though, dismissed such criticism.
"I don't foresee that this would represent anything that would prevent her a seat on the Supreme Court," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Gibbs explained that Sotomayor was clearly following a precedent in ruling in favor of the city of New Haven. He said the Supreme Court was offering a "new interpretation" of part of the Civil Rights Act.
"So I think some of the very concerns that members of Senate have expressed about judicial activism, seemed to be at the very least upside down in this case. I think her ruling on the Second Circuit denotes she's a follower of precedent," Gibbs said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also criticized the Supreme Court's ruling in a statement, and said "it would be wrong" to use it to criticize Sotomayor.
Sotomayor's confirmation hearing is scheduled for July 13.
FOX News Radio's Mike Majchrowitz and FOX News' Daniela Sicuranza contributed to this report.