The Supreme Court issued an opinion on a dispute over promotions among firefighters in New Haven, Conn., overturning a lower court's ruling that had the endorsement of Supreme Court-nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Black firefighters in New Haven had uniformly low scores on a promotion test in 2003 and the city, fearing a discrimination lawsuit, tossed out the results and didn't offer any promotions. Instead, the city got a lawsuit from the white and Hispanic firefighters who said the city was practicing discrimination against them by not awarding their merited promotions.
"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," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the opinion on behalf of the court. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas joined him in the 5-4 ruling. The opinion stated that employers shouldn't have a "de facto quota system" for test results based on race.
Kennedy indicated in the written opinion that the lower court, where Sotomayor was judge, was too dismissive of the firefighters' case, but withheld from criticizing it more fully-most likely because the justices sensed the political charge in the air over Sotomayor's confirmation. Roberts said in February that he was concerned about the politicization of the confirmation process.
Sotomayor has come under criticism from Republicans for comments she made that federal appeals courts are "where policy is made" and that her experiences as a Hispanic woman would help her make better decisions as a judge than a white man.
Still, she will likely be confirmed as a justice by summer's end, particularly now that Senate Democrats hold a 60-seat majority with the announced victory of Al Franken in Minnesota's drawn-out Senate race.