Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Supreme Court Discusses Race
I came upon an interesting article while scrolling through the New York Times “Race Topics Page” which, by the way, is pretty interesting as it organizes all race related articles in one place (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/r/race/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=race&st=cse). The article discussed the Supreme Court’s examination of an interesting situation. When firemen wish to be promoted each are made to take an official exam to determine if they are apt to be promoted. In New Haven, CT such an exam was administered to a group of firefighters and the results yielded no promotions for black applicants. At this point the test was thrown out. The New Haven fire department was attempting to follow federal discrimination laws and were put in a tough situation. Either way they faced a potential lawsuit on both sides. A class action lawsuit was filed by 18 firefighters, all white except for one Hispanic, who claimed discrimination. The question at hand is whether or not the city should be protected because they were attempting to comply with federal law. Justice Breyer asked a series of hypothetical questions to explore the topic. “What if, he asked, a university is dissatisfied with the number of female professors gaining tenure under its usual requirements? May it suspend the requirements? And what if Texas, which admits high school students graduating in the top 10 percent to its public universities, becomes dissatisfied with the resulting racial mix? May it switch to 15 percent?” His point was not that the answer to any of these questions would be a definite yes or no, but that the decision the court makes could have very far-reaching decisions. I think this case could have some big employment implications. Would the court not be implementing some form of affirmative action if they did not side with the white firefighters. Personally, I don’t know why the test was thrown out in the first place. It seems that in an attempt to carefully sidestep any issue of race the city decided that no promotions would be best. But although this approach does not technically directly discriminate against any races, it seems unfair for the firefighters who performed well on the test. In the words of their lawyer, ““It’s neutral because you throw it out for the losers as well as for the winners? That’s neutrality?” The situation is a sticky one; obviously the city feels that they should not take race into account at all, but federal law has certain employment statutes.