We haven’t heard Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s voice much beyond her statement at the White House Tuesday after President Barack Obama nominated her for the Supreme Court. But a recording — clips below — shows the Bronx-born judge in action in the Ricci v. DeStefano case. Seventeen white and two Hispanic firefighters in New Haven, Conn., scored high enough on a test to win promotion, but the city threw out the results after finding that no black firefighters hit the threshold.
The white firefighters sued, alleging reverse discrimination, and lost in federal district court. The case then landed in Judge Sotomayor’s courtroom at the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. In an hour-long hearing last year she vigorously dives into the dispute.
Listen to recording of the first half of the hearing, and the second half. Note that the first half includes the end of the previous case, so Ricci starts a few minutes in. Also, the files are very large, so may take some time to load.
UPDATE: Listen to the whole hearing in one file, starting with Ricci straightaway.
For the first half-hour, she and the presiding judge, Rosemary Pooler, fire questions at the firefighters’ lawyer, Karen Lee Torre. One Sotomayor remark that caught our attention comes early on, when the judge raised the technical issue of whether it was proper to name the New Haven mayor as a defendant in the case. Ms. Torre cited comments the mayor made backing the city’s Civil Service Board in throwing out the test, to which Judge Sotomayor snapped back: “Politicians every day get up in all types of fora and make what I consider the most ridiculous arguments, some of them illegal.” (The Catholic-school-educated judge clearly knew the Latin plural of “forum.”)
For the second half hour, they question the attorney representing New Haven, Richard Roberts. Throughout the oral argument, Sotomayor repeatedly came back to the notion that the city had a right to take another crack at building a better test if it feared the results of the first one were discriminatory.
In her rebuttal, Ms. Torre argued that the city’s interest wasn’t giving minorities a fair shake, but “race racketeering” to benefit “cronies” of the mayor.
Judge Sotomayor paid little attention to that claim, which the city has denied. “We’re not suggesting that unqualified people be hired, the city’s not suggesting that,” she told Ms. Torre. But “if your test is going to always put a certain group at the bottom of the pass rate so they’re never, ever going to be promoted, and there is a fair test that could be devised that measures knowledge in a more substantive way, then why shouldn’t the city have an opportunity to try to look and see if it can develop that?” – Peter Landers and Jess Bravin