This is a big deal. This issue has been debated back and forth for years now amongst my firefighter and his co-workers. It amazes me how deeply politics can influence something as important as saving life and property--something that I would hope would be based solely on merit. It's one thing to let factors other than sheer ability to do the job influence a hiring decision for a job as a file clerk; it's quite another issue when the job in question is one where people's lives are literally at stake. I hope that whoever it is that comes to rescue me on my horribly bad day is the most qualified person possible, regardless of any other factors.
Now--how we go about making a qualified person--that is where there's room for political influence, as needed.
For the record, the chief of my firefighter's department is a minority--a highly qualified, brilliant person who got the job because he earned it. Most firefighters I know want to earn the job and work hard to keep it, and are not looking for favoritism.
Here's an article from USA Today about it:
High court firefighter ruling draws cheers, jeers
By Kathy Kiely and Steve Marshall, USA TODAY
Almost quicker than a fire engine rushes to its next call, special-interest groups and politicians weighed in on the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that New Haven, Conn., violated white firefighters' rights in a promotional exam.
Those with views leaning toward the right commended the court decision; those with liberal views decried the ruling.
On the conservative side, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the court made the right decision. "In the 21st century, race discrimination requires more justification than the fear of being sued," Hatch said.
Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow at the Center for Constitutional Studies and editor in chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, called the decision a blockbuster. "The court reached the correct result: The government can't make employment decisions based on race. While the city's desire to get more blacks into leadership positions at the fire department is commendable, it cannot pursue this goal by denying promotions simply because those who earned them happen to have an inconvenient skin color."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, another member of the Judiciary Committee, said, "Today's decision is a victory for evenhanded application of the law. … The Supreme Court saw the case for what it is: a 'race-based decision' that violates federal law. And while the justices divided on the outcome, all nine justices were critical of the trial court opinion that Judge Sotomayor endorsed."
The Supreme Court's decision reverses a lower court decision that had been joined by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
On the other side, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said the decision interprets the 40-year-old law barring workplace discrimination in a way never intended by Congress.
"Today's narrow decision is likely to result in cutbacks on important protections for American families. It is less likely now that employers will conscientiously try to fulfill their obligations under this time-honored civil rights law. This is a cramped decision that threatens to erode these protections and to harm the efforts of state and local governments that want to build the most qualified workforces."
The liberal group People for the American Way agreed: "The court's ruling severely limits the ability of governments and private corporations to create a diverse workforce."
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the high court's ruling should not hurt Sotomayor's chances for confirmation.
Schumer noted that the majority set new standards for finding employment discrimination and did not suggest that the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, on which Sotomayor sits, was outside the mainstream. "Judge Sotomayor followed the rules that were in place at the time she heard the case," Schumer said.