Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a decision made by SCOTUS-nominee Sonia Sotomayor when she was an appeals judge, ruling that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut had been discriminated against when they were passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified black firefighters. The case is expected to have broad impact on affirmative action cases nationwide.
In the firefighter case, the city said it acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities, but Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that New Haven’s action amounted to discrimination based on race against the white firefighters who were likely to be promoted. “No individual should face workplace discrimination based on race,” Kennedy said. The ruling restricts, but does not eliminate, employers’ ability to take diversity into account in employment decisions. But the ruling could make it harder for minorities to prove discrimination based solely on lopsided racial hiring or promotions. Sotomayor and two appeals court colleagues had ruled the city did the right thing in throwing out the test, and the Supreme Court reversal gave critics fresh ammunition two weeks before her Senate confirmation hearing.