June 29th, 2009 | City

Live-blogging the Ricci decision

Reporters and editors for the News will be posting periodic dispatches today monitoring the fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Ricci v. DeStefano reverse discrimination case. The Court is expected to release its ruling at 10 a.m.

11:26 p.m. | One last thought as we end our blogging for the day. While the Court ruled in favor of Ricci and the New Haven firefighters today, it is important to note that it is still unclear what exactly they have won. The Court did not say that each of the New Haven 20 will be promoted; rather, the actual promotion process will still have to play out. Furthermore, the Court did not address whether the firefighters are eligible for back pay or other damages. These are all questions for a lower court to address.

9:00 p.m. | Staff reporter Jay Dockendorf passes along some of the more interesting comments from Mayor John DeStefano’s press conference this afternoon.

On how he expects firefighters to react to the ruling:

“I would expect the firefighters to do what they have indeed been doing for the last five years: to respect each other individually and to continue to find a civil and thoughtful way to deal with each other. And I will tell you, again, that I think they’ve done that in an exemplary fashion.”

On whether he expects that the ruling will impact testing in the New Haven Police Department:

“I think it’s fair to say that we’re going to look hard at all promotional testing in public safety departments.”

On why he believes New Haven’s disproportionately high shooting rates for blacks and Hispanics are evidence of the need to rectify the 2003 tests’ disparate impact across the community:

“There have been 88 shootings, to date, in the city of New Haven since Jan. 1. Seventy-six of the victims have been African-American. Ten have been Latino. One has been Asian. One has been white. These issues of how different groups are impacted are real in America. … I think it’s a continual erosion of the civil rights law by the Supreme Court.”

8:42 p.m. | The White House has released its transcript of today’s afternoon briefing with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Below are his comments on the Ricci case:

Q    Did the President have any comment on the Supreme Court decision this morning on the firefighter’s decision?

MR. GIBBS:  I haven’t talked to him specifically about it.  I think — though I think one thing is clear, that the ruling by Judge Sotomayor was based on the precedent of the 2nd circuit and the precedence that they had considered.  The Supreme Court clearly had a new interpretation for Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  So I think some of the very concerns that members of the Senate have expressed about judicial activism seem to be at the very least upside-down in this case.  I think her ruling on the 2nd circuit denotes that she’s a follower of precedent.

Q    Is there any concern that there will be some consequences out of this at the confirmation hearings at all?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I don’t foresee that this would represent anything that would prevent her from a seat on the Supreme Court.  I would note that one of the rulings that came down today in an important First Amendment case is that the court — the new court will hear a case on September the 9th.  I think that underscores the importance of ensuring that we get a new Supreme Court nominee there in order to become — in order to be an active participant in that case, rather than potentially have something that’s a four-to-four decision.

Q    Robert, on that point, do you think that the reversal — when you count noses of what the Senate votes, what your projections are, do you think that will change any of what you think your roll call will be?

MR. GIBBS:  No, because I think if you look at the last two Supreme Court nominees, I don’t think the vote changed because they had cases either reversed — let me separate that a little bit.  Judge Alito had three cases reversed by the Supreme Court and is now a member of the Supreme Court.  Judge Roberts actually had a case reversed by the Supreme Court as the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Q    It was –

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  So I think that denotes that there’s little political significance to whatever the Court decided today in terms of Judge Sotomayor, except to render I think a fairly definitive opinion that she follows judicial precedent and that she doesn’t legislate from the bench.  It is a little interesting to watch today the people that criticize her — in essence, I think you’ve seen a new interpretation of a piece of legislation by a court, and her critics are criticizing her ruling based on judicial precedent and in support of something where a court has interpreted in a new way the law.  It’s interesting to watch the gymnastics.

(Cross talk.)

Q    — judicial activist.  You’re saying today was an example of –

MR. GIBBS:  I think it is — it’s an interesting, new interpretation of a law that has been reviewed by many judges in many courts — judges supported by Democrats and Republicans.  I just — I find it somewhat interesting.

7:48 p.m. | If you missed it earlier, click here for a comprehensive account of the Court’s ruling and the reaction today in New Haven, courtesy of staff reporters Harrison Korn and Jay Dockendorf. (They have been posting updates to the main news story on yaledailynews.com throughout the afternoon and are now about to take a much-deserved rest.)

5:07 p.m. | Adam Liptak ’84 LAW ’88, the Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times and a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, gives his analysis of the Ricci decision in a podcast posted online here.

4:51 p.m. | The two leading members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider Sonia Sotomayor’s LAW ’79 nomination for the Supreme Court, have released statements assessing the Court’s ruling in the Ricci case. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and the committee’s ranking member, said the ruling raises questions about Sotomayor’s “commitment to treat each individual fairly and not as a member of a group.”

On the other hand, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the committee’s chairman, criticized the Court’s ruling, saying it would erode protections against discriminatory hiring practices. He added that “it would be wrong to use today’s decision to criticize Judge Sonia Sotomayor.”

4:01 p.m. | It’s clear, for one, that the legal proceedings in this case are far from over. Even after their joyous press conference this afternoon, most of the firefighters in the so-called New Haven 20 declined to speak to reporters about the case, and those who did watched their words very carefully. Frank Ricci, for his part, would only speak with his attorney present.

Downtown New Haven was a veritable media zoo earlier this afternoon as reporters descended on the federal courthouse on Church Street for the firefighters’ press conference and then moved next door to City Hall to hear Mayor John DeStefano Jr. speak. Horace Williams, a production and design editor for the News, sends the following photograph from the encampment outside the courthouse:

media.jpg

3:59 p.m. | At the press conference this afternoon, Karen Torre, the attorney for the firefighters, called the Court’s ruling “a sign that individual achievement should not take a backseat to race or ethnicity.”

“I think the import of the decision is that cities cannot bow to politics and pressure and lobbying by special interest groups or act to achieve racial quotas,” she said, according to The Associated Press. Frank Ricci, for his part, said that the Court’s decision shows “if you work hard, you can succeed in America.”

We’ll have more from the press conference, as well as John DeStefano’s session with the media, later this afternoon. In the meantime, WTNH has video from the firefighters’ press conference here.

3:13 p.m. | White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is fielding questions on the Ricci case. He notes that Justice Samuel Alito LAW ’75 had rulings overturned by the Supreme Court before he took his seat and reminds reporters that Chief Justice John Roberts had a case he had heard as an appeals judge reversed by the Supreme Court while he was sitting as chief justice. “I think that denotes there’s little political significance to what the Court decided today, in terms of Judge Sotomayor,” he said, according to Politico.

3:07 p.m. | Another interesting take: Rep. Linda Sanchez, Democrat of California, writes that the Supreme Court’s ruling is “a step back in the progress society has made” in overcoming culturally biased test questions. “We should be applauding them for recognizing a cultural bias before it produced any real damage,” she said of city officials. Read more here.

1:20 p.m. | On the other hand, a law professor at Duke argues on Slate that the ruling will not hurt Sotomayor: “As one Republican senator put it on Sunday, will the Supreme Court decide the case in a way that shows her to be ‘outside the mainstream’? We now have the answer to that question, and the answer is no,” writes Walter Dellinger. Read more here.

1:04 p.m. | Out of vanity, we’ve been searching for any Yale references in the Court’s ruling, and, sure enough, we found one. Justice Samuel Alito’s LAW ’75 concurrence contains a reference to the 1991 killing of Christian Prince ’93 on Hillhouse Avenue:

As initially described by the dissent … the process by which the City reached the decision not to accept the test results was open, honest, serious, and deliberative. But even the District Court admitted that “a jury could rationally infer that city officials worked behind the scenes to sabotage the promotional examinations because they knew that, were the exams certified, the Mayor would incur the wrath of [Rev. Boise] Kimber and other influential leaders of New Haven’s African-American community.”… This admission finds ample support in the record. Reverend Boise Kimber, to whom the District Court referred, is a politically powerful New Haven pastor and a self-professed “‘kingmaker.’” … On one occasion, “[i]n front of TV cameras, he threatened a race riot duringthe murder trial of the black man arrested for killing white Yalie Christian Prince. He continues to call whites racist if they question his actions.”

The News published a profile of Kimber in 2001; click here to read it.

12:56 p.m. | As expected, conservatives have wasted no time in launching criticisms at Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. The Court’s ruling today reverses a ruling in the Ricci case that Sotomayor upheld as an appeals court judge. Here is a statement from Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice:

The Supreme Court decision repudiating Judge Sotomayor’s legal position in this discrimination case raises important questions about Judge Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy. … This Supreme Court decision – which overturns Judge Sotomayor’s legal position – puts the nominee’s views on judicial activism front and center at the upcoming confirmation hearings. How does Judge Sotomayor view the Constitution, the rule of law? What’s the proper role of the judiciary when it comes to issues like race – is it to set public policy, or uphold the rule of law that is gender and racially neutral? These are important questions that now become even more significant in light of today’s decision by the Supreme Court. We look forward to hearing from Judge Sotomayor on this issue and others in the days ahead.

And from the Judicial Confirmation Network:

Usually, poor performance in any profession is not rewarded with the highest job offer in the entire profession.

What Judge Sotomayor did in Ricci was the equivalent of a pilot error resulting in a bad plane crash. And now the pilot is being offered to fly Air Force One.

The firefighters in New Haven who protect the public safety and worked hard for their promotions did not deserve to become victims of racial quotas, and the Supreme Court has now confirmed that they did not deserve to have their claims buried and thrown out by Judge Sotomayor.

12:03 p.m. | The White House has not put out a statement on the Ricci decision, reports Politico. But Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is expected to address the ruling at his briefing at 2 p.m.

11:48 a.m. | This has been an emotional morning for the Ricci family, to say the least. The Hartford Courant reports on Frank Ricci’s mother’s reaction when she learned of the Court’s ruling this morning:

Nancy Ricci’s knees buckled momentarily when she heard of the decision.”See, the justices were for America,” she said, after recovering. “Everyone is qualified to be a leader, a commander. New Haven won. The citizens won. Fire and any emergency (services) are color blind.”Ricci’s father, James, said: “It’s a victory for all firefighters across the country. Now we are going to have the best commanders on the ground. It has been a long struggle,. These guys worked hard to get this far. It is a shame the city of New Haven didn’t recognize it.”

11:24 a.m. | We now have dueling press conferences! The lawyer for the firefighters, Karen Torre, said in an e-mail message that she and her clients will speak to reporters at 1:15 p.m. in front of the federal courthouse on Church Street in New Haven.

10:48 a.m. | The City of New Haven has scheduled a press conference this afternoon in response to the Court’s ruling. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. will speak to reporters at 2 p.m. in front of City Hall, according to spokesman Adam Joseph.

10:30 a.m. | The News’ courts reporter, Harrison Korn, has a full report on the ruling. “The Court said that New Haven’s actions violated Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion or national origin,” he writes. “The court said that since there was no ‘strong basis in evidence’ that the test was discriminatory, not job-related, or that there were less discriminatory alternatives, the city could not throw out the results.” Read the full story, which will be updated throughout the day, here.

10:18 a.m. | As expected, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote in what turned out to be a 5-4 decision. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the dissenting opinion, which was co-signed by Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.

10:00 a.m. | The Court has ruled in favor of the firefighters, as many had predicted. The ruling itself should be posted to the Supreme Court’s Web site within a few minutes.

Reporting was contributed by Jay Dockendorf, Harrison Korn, Zeke Miller and Horace Williams.