Supreme Court overrules Sotomayor in Ricci case

The court rules for the plaintiffs, a group of white firefighters who claim discrimination

Published June 29, 2009 2:35PM (EDT)

Any big Supreme Court case on racial discrimination is bound to attract some attention, especially when the plaintiffs are a group of white firefighters who didn't get a promotion that test scores showed them deserving of. Add in that Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who has since been nominated to the Supreme Court, played a role and you have a hotly anticipated opinion, one that could serve as the focal point for the battle over her nomination.

After a long wait, the court released its opinion in the case, Ricci v. DeStefano, on Monday morning. No real surprises were involved -- as expected, the court overruled Sotomayor and her colleagues, reversing their decision and finding for the plaintiffs. The vote split 5-4, largely along ideological lines -- the court's conservatives on one side, the liberals on the other. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote, sided with the conservatives and gave them the majority.

The case stems from a test given to firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who were seeking promotion; the results of the test would have meant 13 out of 15 available promotions would go to whites, two to Hispanics and none to African Americans. Because of the lack of racial balance, the city elected to throw out the test and try to come up with some more equitable system.

Given the right's focus on Sotomayor's race, and her position on issues of race and affirmative action, there's bound to be a lot of focus on the case in the coming days, especially on its outcome and what it says -- or doesn't say -- about her as a judge.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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