The incoming Obama administration will have to deal with the issue of racial preferences sooner rather than later thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision today to take up an appeal in an affirmative action case, Ricci v. DeStefano. New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci and 18 others sued after the fire department failed to promote them when they scored well on the department’s promotion exam. Since too few black firefighters scored high enough to justify promotions, the city threw out the exam altogether.
Ricci and his co-plaintiffs-including one Hispanic-argue that their promotions were denied solely because of their race, and it’s hard to see it any other way. Of course the city says that they abandoned the test-which had been carefully constructed to eliminate any racial bias-because they were afraid that if they failed to promote enough black firefighters to satisfy affirmative action goals, they’d be sued for discrimination. A lower court threw out the case, and a closely divided Second Circuit voted against hearing the appeal.
Obama tried hard to dance around the issue of affirmative action during the campaign, but no doubt his Justice Department will weigh in on this case. It will be interesting to see whether they have any new arguments to justify ignoring racial discrimination when it’s practiced against whites (and in this case, at least, Hispanics).