This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," June 29, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Justice today for firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the group of men who claim that they were denied promotions solely because of their race. The catch? They were white.
And this is a story that we have been following closely now for months. The Supreme Court found that the city of New Haven acted unconstitutionally when it refused to promote white firefighters who passed their promotion exam by larger margins than their black colleagues.
Now this decision overturned a Circuit Court ruling handed down by a panel of judges that included Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
And joining me now are Frank Ricci, Matthew Marcarelli and Ben Vargas. Three of the New Haven firefighters who challenged the city's police. Now with them is their attorney, Karen Torre.
• Video: Watch Sean's interview
Guys, good to see you, thank you for being with us. I guess congratulations are in order to all of you.
HANNITY: All right, yes — no, Frank Ricci, let me start with you. Your name is on this case, and I guess the main thing that I want you to explain to our audience, and I have spoken with you earlier today, I know that it's important that you're looking at all the firefighters, but I think there's a lot of context and texture of the obstacles and how hard you worked to do so well on this exam.
And I want you to explain that to our audience so they understand the full context of this story.
FRANK RICCI, NEW HAVEN, CONN. FIREFIGHTER: Well, everybody worked really hard on this exam, and with a learning disability I had to work a little extra harder, but I prepared myself throughout the — throughout my entire career, you know, studying hard, as we all have, you know, reading trade magazines, like "Fire Engineering," taking classes on our own time.
I mean it's a common story that you'll find throughout the New Haven 20. I had to work a little harder with — because I have some trouble reading so I had my father and a neighbor read the books in a tape for me so I could study that way, studied on the way to work, and you know, everybody, all 20 of us have a story, Sean.
HANNITY: Yes — but it goes a little deeper because you have — your wife doesn't work, you have a family, so on a firefighter's salary you hired a tutor, you had everybody helping you, you put in the time to study, you spent $1,000, $1,000 to — on a firefighter's salary. For a family, it's a lot of money. No?
RICCI: It's a lot of money and it's a huge sacrifice for all our families going through this process.
HANNITY: Yes. Let me ask you all. Do you think this is a case of reverse discrimination?
MATTHEW MARCARELLI, NEW HAVEN, CONN. FIREFIGHTER: Well, I think we view discrimination as discrimination, and plain and simple. We were discriminated based upon our race just like African-Americans were in the past in other issues. So it's just plain old discrimination.
HANNITY: Yes — I'm not sure who's who there. I know who Frank is. The gentleman to your right, what does he say?
BEN VARGAS, NEW HAVEN, CONN. FIREFIGHTER: I agree completely. Yes, Ben Vargas, yes, Sean. Yes, I agree with Matt completely. Discrimination is discrimination, and we hear a lot about reverse discrimination, but you know, discrimination is discrimination, and that's the bottom line.
HANNITY: Karen, I know this is a 5-4 decision, and by any objective measure, people would say well, this is a pretty close case, but in essence, when you look at it, really, it's almost 9-0 because even those in the minority found that the Second Circuit with Judge Sotomayor had really botched this case. Is that your reading of it?
• Great American Blog: Setback for Sotomayor?
KAREN TORRE, ATTORNEY FOR NEW HAVEN FIREFIGHTERS: I think that's how most people read it, Sean. I think they just disagreed on what should happen on the remand, so obviously we are relieved and delighted that five justices formed a majority to give a result that we had hoped for.
HANNITY: And I read Justice Alito in his concurring opinion with Justices Thomas and Scalia, and he was very specific that the petitioners, in fact, that the 20 firefighters in this particular case, you were denied promotions because of your race and ethnicity and that the district court threw the case out on summary judgment and the court of appeals then summarily affirmed that decision.
So in other words you really were denied equal justice under the law, so that raises a question about, Frank, and I'll ask you, about President Obama's Supreme Court choice, Sotomayor, who was active in this case, and you've got to have thoughts on her.
RICCI: Sean, that's really a question for another day. Today — it's been a really long road for all of us. Today we really want to focus on the fact that we won at the United States Supreme Court.
HANNITY: That's a fair answer. Let me ask the question a little bit differently and perhaps in a way that you don't have to get political, OK? She's been overturned multiple times in her decisions. This is just the latest in a series where she was overturned.
Does that — should that raise questions in the minds of the American people? I'll ask maybe your attorney. Karen?
TORRE: Well, you know, we obviously have very strong feelings, Sean, about the way we were treated in the lower courts. You know, we had an unpublished order which Judge Cabranes of the Second Circuit called a path breaking decision, that it was unpublished.
And then I saw a one paragraph, you know, summary dismissal of our case, that was also unpublished. So there's no question that we had a very difficult time accepting how our case was handled below and I know a lot of people have had something to say about that.
And Judge Sotomayor having been nominated to the Supreme Court has only added to the commentary on that, but honestly today, we just don't want Judge Sotomayor and her nomination or anybody else for that matter to sort of invade our space. You know? We're happy today.
TORRE: And we want to take — we want to have a celebration, and you know, we might have something to say about that some other time, but really, we don't want anything wrecking our day today.
HANNITY: Well — no. And you guys, look, deserve it. But I have to ask Ben and Matthew.
HANNITY: Any thoughts from you guys?
MARCARELLI: No, I have to echo what Karen and Frank had said, and that's simply, you know, this is not about Judge Sotomayor. This is about 20 New Haven firefighters that were denied promotion on the basis of their race, and we fought a long, hard battle, not just for ourselves, but for firefighters and public safety personnel and public safety in general throughout the country.
MARCARELLI: That's what this is really all about.
HANNITY: I think this is really an important moment for this reason. If we really believe in Martin Luther King, and Ben, I'll throw this to you, and we believe in this concept that we judge people by the content of their character and the hard work that you put in and more importantly, you know, it's a very dangerous job being a firefighter.
Don't the people of New Haven deserve the best, most qualified people, and do you think that they would have otherwise have been denied that had you have not gotten your promotion?
VARGAS: Absolutely, yes. I think that the decision was a correct one. We took the side on from the beginning because we believed in it, in the cause, and you know, I think we've said this before, but it's worth saying once again.
We didn't know where we were on this list. We did this out of principle. We did it for the people that passed and the people that deserve those promotions, and we hope that the decision echoes across the entire nation.
HANNITY: All right. Well, I think it has, and certainly it's precedence here, setting. Frank, I'll ask you on behalf of all of your fellow firefighters, this has been what, five and a half long years, it's been a long time.
What is the status now? I assume you get your promotion, and I assume you get back pay, am I right?
RICCI: Well, we're looking forward to that promotion ceremony, Sean, and we hope you come down for it.
HANNITY: I appreciate the invitation, but in all honesty, you know what, it's one of the most dangerous jobs, I have a lot of friends that are firemen and policemen, guys, and I've got to tell you something, it's a dangerous job. Thank you for what you do, this is a very important decision, I think, in terms of fairness and equal rights and equal justice under the law, for everybody. And I wish you all the best, and thank you for being with us.
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