The Supreme Court has reversed one of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's most controversial rulings involving white firefighters who sued the city of New Haven, Conn., for "reverse discrimination."
The court ruled 5-4 in the Ricci v. DeStefano case that the plaintiffs were unfairly denied promotions because of their race. The city of New Haven claims that it threw out the results of a promotional exam after it was found that no African American firefighters and only two Latinos did well enough to be promoted. They said the decision to throw out the scores was a preemptive move to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.
In the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, "Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions." He was joined in the opinion by justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigorously dissented, saying the white firefighters
"understandably attract this court's sympathy. But they had no vested
right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in
preference to them." Justices David Souter, Stephen Breyer and
John Paul Stevens signed onto Ginsburg's dissent and agreed with her prediction that the court's ruling "will not have staying power."
Reactions to the reversal have, not surprisingly, fallen along party lines, with Democrats saying that Judge Sotomayor was correct in her original decision and Republicans claiming that the reversal raised serious concerns about her possible appointment to the highest court in the land. The White House issued a statement saying that there was "little political significance" to the court's decision.