ADL to Supreme Court: Lower Court Wrong in Not Requiring City to Justify Race-Conscious Decision
New York, NY, February 26, 2009 …The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today filed a "friend of the Court" brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that a city must demonstrate a "compelling interest" before it can scrap a firefighter's employment promotional exam based on race.
In the case, Ricci v. DeStefano, the city of New Haven, Connecticut chose not to act on test results because it was unhappy with the racial makeup of the pool of successful candidates.
Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director, said:
"ADL has long maintained that the eradication of discrimination from our society is best achieved through strict assurance of equal treatment to all and by ensuring that each person in our country has a constitutional right to be treated as an individual, rather than as simply part of a racial, ethnic, religious, or gender-defined group.
"This critical goal cannot be achieved when governments are permitted to freely use race as a basis to choose among citizens, be it for employment, the provision of education, or for qualification for benefits. Whenever a government engages in race-conscious decision making, it must show that it had the most compelling of reasons and that it subjected itself to careful judicial oversight.
"Diversity in all facets is a key ingredient in America's continuing evolution toward a fully integrated society that honors inclusiveness and is free of racial and ethnic hatred. But diversity should not be achieved through discrimination."
The case was brought by white firefighters in New Haven. The New Haven Fire Department had created and given an exam to determine who would be promoted to lieutenant in the department. When the results of the exam were tallied, it was apparent that only white (and one Hispanic) firefighters would be immediately promoted as a result. Instead of certifying the exam and promoting the firefighters, the city threw out the exam, claiming that it would be subject to a lawsuit by African-American fire fighters. The white firefighters sued, claiming racial discrimination.
This case poses unique challenges to the high court and ADL offers a novel approach for adjudicating it. Asserting that the lower courts' scrutiny of New Haven's race-based action was inadequate, the League's brief, while critical of New Haven, was filed in support of neither party to focus attention on what standard the courts should have used to ensure that the city's basis for its action was legally sufficient.
The brief suggests that the court could craft an appropriate standard by looking to voting rights cases where it required a municipality which said it feared litigation (New Haven's contention here) to demonstrate "a strong basis in evidence" for its fear. That way, the burden will shift to the city to see if it can produce a sound legal justification for its decision.
ADL's 95-year history is marked by a commitment to protecting the civil rights of all persons, whether they are members of a minority group or of a non-minority group, and to assuring that each person receives equal treatment under the law. ADL's brief was authored by Michael Smith and Martin Karlinsky of the law firm Butzel Long.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.