Monday, June 29, 2009

Preliminary Thoughts on the Ricci Ruling

The Supreme Court issued its ruling in the now famous Ricci case where white firefighters claimed reverse discrimination. I have discussed the facts of the case extensively in a previous post (

Suffice it to say, I am not surprised by the ruling given the current conservative tilt of the court. Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Kennedy, and Alito are deeply skeptical of affirmative action. For example, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy ruled against the University of Michigan in a case about the law school’s affirmative action program in Grutter vs. Bollinger in 2003.

I can’t help feeling a bit happy for Ricci. He has a compelling life story, and I believe he deserved a promotion. I will need to delve deeper into the legal reasoning as soon as I can get my hand on the opinions to see if I think the case was correctly decided.

That leaves the question of what effect the ruling will have on Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. It does give some fodder for conservatives who want to oppose her nomination. They can say “look, this woman issues unconstitutional rulings that discriminate against white men.” The public could also have a negative impression of Sotomayor upon learning of this reversal and the case itself.

However, Republicans still have to deal with the fact that Sotomayor is the first Latina nominee to the Supreme Court in US history. A strong Hispanic vote for Obama last November helped deliver him a comfortable margin of victory. I’m still not sure Republicans will want to risk a further backlash from Hispanic voters going into midterm elections next year. A harsh treatment of Sotomayor could cement the current perception many minorities have of Republicans as a white man’s party.

And it does seem preposterous for Republicans to use this ruling to say that Sotomayor is outside of the mainstream. It was a 5-4 decision after all, and had the court had a different left-right split, the decision could well have turned out differently. If being overturned by the Supreme Court were a disqualification, then Samuel Alito who was overturned in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey in the 1990s should not have been confirmed either (

This ruling will no doubt give Republicans more cover to vote against her, but I still see Sotomayor getting confirmed.

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