In a 5-4 decision spilt, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, SCOTUS reversed the Ricci case outright, preferring a full reversal to what was thought might be a middle ground compromise on liability versus Title VII grounds.
The full opinion is available for download here (PDF). The key language from Kennedy:
Fear of litigation alone cannot justify the City’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions. Discarding the test results was impermissible under Title VII, and summary judgment is appropriate for petitioners on their disparate-treatment claim. If, after it certifies the test results, the City faces a disparate-impact suit, then in light of today’s holding the City can avoid disparate-impact liability based on the strong basis in evidence that, had it not certified the results, it would have been subject to disparate-treatment liability. Pp. 33–34.
Let the spin war begin, I suppose. With the issuance of the much anticipated Ricci decision, the political SCOTUS spin wars will begin anew on the Sotomayor nomination.
Evidence of this? The Federalist Society has a briefing call set up for 11:30 am ET today. It was ready to go with Gail Heriot, C. Boyden Gray and Roger Clegg on tap before the SCOTUS opinion on the case ever got released.
Federalist Society holds a discussion via teleconference on how the expected Supreme Court ruling on Ricci v. DeStefano will impact discrimination, employee rights and the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor.
Talking points at the ready and….go! Who cares about the actual opinion!
That sound you hear is journalists with pens at the ready for stenography. Except?
Anyone who tries to tell you that this is simply a race issue or an easy call doesn’t know jack about labor law. Marcia at Workplace Prof blog did an exceptional layout of the nuances and legal parsings from the SCOTUS oral argument. And, as anyone who reads it can see, it isn’t just black and white. Not by a long shot.
The WaPo, of all places, had a fairly good back and forth on all of the issues in the case, if you are interested in more of the factual background.
In the commentary after Sotomayor’s nomination last week, some have mischaracterized the case and inflated the nominee’s role. It does not involve racial quotas or even a municipal policy of affirmative action, nor does it involve preferences in hiring.
All who took the tests for promotion to lieutenant and captain already worked as firefighters for the city, so it is not a question of hiring less-qualified workers to meet diversity goals.
But the promotion results produced a heated debate in the city, and government lawyers warned the independent civil service board that if it certified the test results, minority firefighters might have a good case for claiming discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal guidelines presume discrimination when a test has such a disparate impact on minorities.
The board split 2 to 2, which meant the exam was not certified.
But somehow the facts of how the entire thing happened in New Haven itself never seem to get into the mix, now do they?
I’ll be reading through the opinion for a bit to see if there’s something to pull out and emphasize. Labor law is not my specialty area, so if it’s yours and you see something that stands out, please let me know.