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Firefighter criticizes Sotomayor ruling

  • Story Highlights
  • Frank Ricci one of 20 firefighters who claimed reverse discrimination in promotions
  • Plaintiff: Decision undermined concept of a merit-based civil service system
  • Sotomayor: Ruling was based on "a very thorough" decision by the district court
  • New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, others spoke in favor of judge's confirmation
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- New Haven, Connecticut, firefighter Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in perhaps the most controversial case involving Judge Sonia Sotomayor, said Thursday that Sotomayor's rejection of his reverse discrimination claim had undermined the concept of a merit-based civil service system.

New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci sued after the city threw out results of a 2003 firefighter promotion exam.

New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci sued after the city threw out results of a 2003 firefighter promotion exam.

Ricci was one of a group of 20 mostly white firefighters who sued the city of New Haven after it threw out the results of a 2003 firefighter promotion exam because almost no minorities qualified for promotions.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, including Sotomayor, backed the city in the 2008 case Ricci v. DeStefano. The ruling of the Circuit Court was overturned in June by a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The "belief that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics is flawed," Ricci told the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"It only divides people who don't wish to be divided along racial lines. The very reason we have civil service rules is to root out politics, discrimination and nepotism. Our case demonstrates that these ills will exist if the rules of merit and the law are not followed." Video Watch firefighters testify »

Ricci also criticized Sotomayor's 2nd Circuit for disposing of the case in an "unsigned, unpublished summary order that consisted of a single paragraph."

Sotomayor was not present when Ricci spoke. She left the session after concluding her remarks earlier Thursday.

Sotomayor argued before committee members Tuesday that her ruling in the Ricci case was decided on the basis of "a very thorough, 78-page decision by the district court" and followed an established precedent.

"This was not a quota case or (an) affirmative action case," she said. The case was a challenge to a firefighter test that had a wide range of difference between the pass and failure rate of different groups. The city of New Haven, she noted, was at risk of being sued by employees who could show they were "disparately impacted" by the test.

New Haven city officials, after a number of days of hearings, decided they wouldn't certify the test but would instead attempt to develop a test of equal value in measuring a candidate's qualifications without having a disparate impact, she said.

The question before the 2nd Circuit, Sotomayor said, was whether the city's decision was based on race or its understanding of what the law required it to do. The Circuit Court ruled that it was based on the latter.

Based on established legal precedent, the 2nd Circuit decided that the city's decision was proper under established law. The Supreme Court, however, applied a new standard, she said, based on a different area of law. If she were ruling on that case today, she said, she would be bound by the new standards set by the Supreme Court.

Ricci was one of several witnesses who testified both for and against Sotomayor.

Linda Chavez, head of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action, argued that "it is clear" from Sotomayor's record "that she has drunk deep from the well of identity politics." It is impossible for Sotomayor to be a fair judge when she has "shown a willingness to let her policy preferences guide her," Chavez said.

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Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel testified on Sotomayor's behalf, arguing that her opinion in the Ricci case was, in fact, an example of judicial restraint. It followed a string of legal precedents dating back almost three decades, he said.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also testified in favor of Sotomayor, telling committee members that she is an "independent jurist" with a "sharp and agile mind" who would bring "a wealth of unique experience" to the high court.

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