Sessions to call white firefighters in Sotomayor hearings

The Judiciary Committee's lead Republican wants plaintiffs from the judge's most controversial case on TV

By Alex Koppelman
Published July 9, 2009 5:35PM (EDT)

The Senate Judiciary Committee has just released the witness list for hearings on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, which will begin Monday. It provides a pretty strong insight into the Republicans' plans for opposing Sotomayor: Hit her hard, and often, on race and guns.

Two names, especially, stick out in the Republicans' witness list: Frank Ricci, the director of Fire Services with the Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health, and Lieutenant Ben Vargas of the New Haven Fire Department. Ricci was the named plaintiff from one of the most controversial rulings in which Sotomayor has taken part, Ricci v. DeStefano.

The case centered around 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. Sotomayor voted in favor of the city and against the group of firefighters who sued; the Supreme Court recently reversed that decision.

As my colleague Glenn Greenwald quipped when the news broke, the two firefighters are unlikely to be asked to comment on the complex legal issues involved in their case. Instead, ironically, their testimony is going to be about the dreaded "empathy," making Sotomayor out to be a racist victimizing innocent white firefighters.

Other big names on the list, like Sandy Froman, the former president of the NRA, suggest that Sotomayor's rulings on the Second Amendment will also be a big issue. And, of course, there's at least one witness there to talk about social issues: Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life.

The Democrats' list seems to hint mostly that they'll want to emphasize Sotomayor's long resume and her performance in her various jobs. But they're not above a bit of showmanship, either: They'll be calling former New York Mets pitcher David Cone, presumably to talk about Sotomayor's ruling that ended the 1995 Major League Baseball strike.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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