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Supreme Court overturns Sotomayor, an opening for Republican critics (full text)

June 29, 2009 |  8:32 am

New Haven firefighters who won victory in the Supreme Court on a claim of reverse discrimination

The Supreme Court today ruled 5-4 for white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who qualified for promotions by doing well on a test that the city later threw out because black firefighters did not.

Ordinarily, that would make for an interesting news bulletin, another round in the cultural debate over discrimination, affirmative action and the fairness of testing.

But this case will get a lot more attention, if only because federal  Judge Sonia Sotomayor -- the first nomination President Obama has made to the Supreme Court -- was one of three judges to rule against the white firefighters.

True, the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision found the usual suspects on their expected sides, with Justice Anthony Kennedy casting the swing vote as he often does and Justice David Souter -- on his last day at the court -- ruling as with the liberal wing, led by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Translation: Sotomayor's confirmation wouldn't change the court's ideological makeup.

Still, the case gives conservative critics an opening to accuse Sotomayor of putting her much-touted empathy ahead of her dedication to the rule of law. In fact, even before today's Supreme Court decision, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had homed in on the case, criticizing Sotomayor not only for ruling against Frank Ricci and the other white firefighters but for dismissing their cause in just a few sentences, without explaining the legal underpinnings of their decision.

“In reviewing the Ricci case, I am concerned that Judge Sotomayor may have lost sight of" the distinction between personal views and the law, McConnell said. "As we consider this nomination, I will continue to examine her record to see if personal or political views have influenced her judgment.”

Never mind that the Fourth of July is still a few days off. You can start the political fireworks now.

Click here to read the whole decision in the case, Ricci vs. Stefano (he's the mayor of New Haven).

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: New Haven firefighters dubbed "the New Haven 20"  outside New Haven's federal courthouse in January. Credit: Brad Horrigan / Associated Press

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