The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Monday that the city of New Haven, Conn., unfairly denied promotions to white firefighters.
The court overruled a decision of a three judge appellate court panel that included Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
The lead plaintiff in the case, firefighter Frank Ricci, claimed he was discriminated against when he and other white firefighters (and two Hispanics) passed a test but were denied promotions when no black firefighters scored well enough to also gain a promotion.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, “Nor do we question an employer’s affirmative efforts to ensure that all groups have a fair opportunity to apply for promotions and to participate in the process by which promotions will be made. But once that process has been established and employers have made clear their selection criteria, they may not then invalidate the test results, thus upsetting an employee’s legitimate expectation not to be judged on the basis of race.”
“Doing so, absent a strong basis in evidence of an impermissible disparate impact, amounts to the sort of racial preference that Congress has disclaimed and is antithetical to the notion of a workplace where individuals are guaranteed equal opportunity regardless of race,” Kennedy wrote.
Joining with Justice Kennedy’s opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Voting against the firefighters were the liberal members of the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the dissenting opinion, and Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.
In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg said the white firefighters "understandably attract this court’s sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them."
In another high profile case, the court decided to rehear arguments on whether a documentary “Hillary: The Movie” made by Citizens United, a conservative not-for-profit group, that was shown during Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president should be regulated under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
The court will hear arguments in the case again in a special session on Sept. 9 in order to address whether the court should reevaluate previous rulings on limiting campaign speech and contributions during an election.