Don’t be fooled by the 5-4 vote breakdown in the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday in Ricci v. DeStefano. The justices unanimously rejected Sonia Sotomayor’s position.
The Supreme Court’s predictable 5-4 vote to reverse the decision by Judge Sonia Sotomayor and two federal appeals court colleagues against 17 white (and one Hispanic) plaintiffs in the now-famous New Haven, Conn., firefighters decision does not by itself prove that the Sotomayor position was unreasonable.
After all, it was hardly to be expected that the five more conservative justices — who held that the city had violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by refusing to promote the firefighters with the highest scores on a job-related promotional exam because none were black — would endorse an Obama nominee’s ruling to the contrary.
What’s more striking is that the court was unanimous in rejecting the Sotomayor panel’s specific holding. Her holding was that New Haven’s decision to spurn the test results must be upheld based solely on the fact that highly disproportionate numbers of blacks had done badly on the exam and might file a “disparate-impact” lawsuit — regardless of whether the exam was valid or the lawsuit could succeed.
This position is so hard to defend, in my view, that I hazarded a prediction in my June 13 column: “Whichever way the Supreme Court rules in the case later this month, I will be surprised if a single justice explicitly approves the specific, quota-friendly logic of the Sotomayor-endorsed… opinion” by U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton.
Unlike some of my predictions, this one proved out. In fact, even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg‘s 39-page dissent for the four more liberal justices quietly but unmistakably rejected the Sotomayor-endorsed position that disparate racial results alone justified New Haven’s decision to dump the promotional exam without even inquiring into whether it was fair and job-related.
Not much of an endorsement for her nomination to the high court.
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