SCOTUS Rules for White Firefighters

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 10:23 AM EDT

In a 5-4 decision that split along ideological lines, with Justice Anthony Kennedy siding with Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in the majority, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that a group of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions based on their race. The ruling overturns Sonia Sotomayor's appellate court decision.

The firefighters who brought the suit, Ricci v. DeStefano, claimed reverse-discrimination when the city threw out results of a promotion exam because no black and only two Hispanic firefighters would have been promoted. 

The city scrapped the test because it feared promoting a disproportionate number of white firefighters would leave them in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination. Blacks and Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of New Haven's population.

New Haven officials claimed they feared a lawsuit from the minority firefighters on those grounds if they let the test results stand, but the court ruled that "fear of litigation cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions." However, the court held the city cannot be sued for throwing out the test results.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reading her dissent form the bench, said the white firefighters had "had no vested right to promotion...The Court today holds that New Haven has not demonstrated 'a strong basis in evidence' for its plea. In so holding, the Court pretends that '[t]he City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.'"

Read the entire ruling here (PDF).

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