Supreme Court firefighter decision shows why we need judicial balance…

And now I know why we need balance between conservative and liberal justices on the Supreme Court.

I wholeheartedly agree with the high court’s announced decision today that white New Haven, Conn. firefighters were wrongly denied promotions when they passed a promotion test with high marks but the test was thrown out by the city because no blacks scored high enough.

And let me insert quickly here that I am relatively sure that such does not mean black firefighters in general are just not smart enough, it only means that those who took that test were either not quite up to it or did not study hard enough or did not use the correct study materials. Unfortunately in life we sometimes have to take exams to get ahead, and worse yet the way to pass the exams is often to study the exams themselves, that is to say, it’s more important to get the correct answers than to actually know the material (sounds contradictory, but that’s the way tests are sometimes), and the exams might not be the best measure of someone’s knowledge or leadership ability, except that one who does not realize the relevance of studying to the test may not have the reasoning and judgment to be a leader.

The court found no evidence that the exams were flawed or were not relevant to the job for which they were designed to test for or that they were worded in such a way as to be more favorable to white firefighters than minorities.

In a previous blog I suggested that perhaps the New Haven fire department might initiate a program to encourage and offer some assistance (I think that is what I wrote more or less) to black firefighters to help them study for promotion exams. I would add that any actual help would have to be offered to all.

The Supreme Court basically indicated that the city overreacted when it threw out the test on the grounds that since no blacks scored high enough (many did pass, they just did not get high enough scores) the city might be liable to a discrimination lawsuit. The court said there was no evidence that the test or procedures were flawed or discriminatory (I’m just going by my own interpretation of a news story here – this is of course not a scholarly legal analysis).

This whole problem is the end result of policies first codified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and furthered by various court decisions since then in the name of affirmative action.

While I don’t consider myself a conservative, I have always been opposed to affirmative action. I totally support equal rights and because so many people did too the Civil Rights Act was passed. I now recall doing some research for a college paper and reading the original bill’s intent and If I recall correctly it said there was no support of quotas only equal access (paraphrasing of course). But all that changed with various judge-made laws over the years that called for all kinds of schemes, from hiring quotas to busing school children all around town to get racial balance (how would that play today with the cost of fuel and our environmental consciousness?).

Quotas and I think busing have been done away with for the most part (not sure about that, though). But the notion of somehow stacking the deck to make sure that minorities get jobs or promotions still seems to exist.

The main problem in all of this is that in trying to do away with discrimination the courts implemented reverse discrimination.

I have two nephews who wanted to be firefighters for the state of California.They took classes at junior college. But they were discouraged from applying. One veteran firefighting official told one of my nephews point blank that if he was not an American Indian or black or Hispanic, he should not bother. They both moved on and got into other work.

It seems to me that affirmative action has worked against minorities. It has put the notion forward that they cannot qualify on their own and that they are just not smart enough to pass tests. Nonsense.

In my own life experiences I have not, in general, detected any outright difference in abilities among the races (yes I know white men can’t jump and blacks make good athletes, but you know what I mean), at least not in intelligence or leadership capabilities. I think it is more about the upbringing of individuals and the choices they make.

I fear that affirmative action has given some in the minority groups a sense of entitlement, the same sense that whites once had over minorities.

How much confidence can one have in one’s self when he or she has to depend upon affirmative action rules to get ahead? Not much.

If minority New Haven black firefighters want promotions I suggest that they do what their white counterparts did – study for the test.

And before I forget, as I said at the top of this blog, it is good that there are conservatives on the court. I guess it is too bad that justices seem to have to be labeled conservative or liberal and cannot just be expected to objectively interpret the law – but then again, interpretation implies some kind of ideological thinking takes place and it does. So to get a balance between conservatively rigid, unbending interpretation that would uphold outright and quite legal at the time discrimination of the past and rulings that go far beyond the letter of the law or constitution, which liberals are prone to make, we need that balance. The New Haven decision was 5-4, with the expected conservative/liberal split. The tricky thing is getting a justice on there who is middle of the road so decisions can go either way, a swing vote, as they call it. I think at this time Justice Anthony Kennedy is the closest to the middle ground, although primarily a conservative. And he did write the majority opinion in this one.

Interestingly, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor sat on the appeals court panel that voted the other way in what was called a cursory opinion. In her defense, some observers say she was just following precedent. From what I have read about her, she tends to be liberal but is unpredictable. I kind of like that as long as she is following the law, as she interprets it, of course, and not making it up as she goes along. Maybe she could balance Kennedy and be a swing vote that is weighted to the left.

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