WASHINGTON – In a case that is at the center of the upcoming Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearing, the Supreme Court announced its opinion in favor of white firefighters that Sotomayor had twice ruled against.
Monday's 5-4 opinion in this reverse discrimination case is already championed by conservatives as a judgment against Sotomayor's jurisprudence in this racially charged case.
Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the opinion in favor of Frank Ricci and his fellow firefighters who sued New Haven, Conn. after city leaders tossed out the results of a promotions exam because no African Americans scored well enough to merit advancement.
"The City's action in discarding the tests violated [federal law]," Kennedy held.
The city argued its action was prompted by concern that disgruntled African American firefighters would sue. But that reasoning didn't hold sway with the Court's majority. "Fear of litigation alone cannot justify the City's reliance of race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions."
This decision, like so many of the close cases before the high court divided along its familiar ideological lines. The Court's more liberal members joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent which she read from the bench. "The white firefighters who scored high on New Haven's promotional exams understandably attract the Court's sympathy," she said. "But they had no vested right to promotion."
Last year, Sotomayor, a judge on the New York-based Second Circuit Court of Appeals twice ruled against the white firefighters. Her decision in this case has prompted significant criticism—especially from conservatives who have charged that Sotomayor didn't show empathy towards them. The criticism is also a thinly-veiled attack on President Obama who said he would look for a Supreme Court nominee who showed empathy towards litigants.
Sotomayor will undoubtedly be asked about this opinion at her confirmation hearing that will start in two weeks.