April 28th, 2009
03:44 PM ET

High court asked to untangle reverse discrimination case

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/22/scotus.reverse.discrimination/art.scotus.exterior.gi.jpg]
Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer

The Supreme Court's conservative majority expressed varying degrees of concern Wednesday over a civil rights case brought by 20 firefighters, most of them white, who claim reverse discrimination in promotions.

The suit was filed in response to New Haven, Connecticut, officials' decision to throw out results of promotional exams that they said left too few minorities qualified.

At issue is whether the city intentionally discriminated, in violation of both federal law and the Constitution's equal protection clause.

The high court is being asked to decide whether there is a continued need for special treatment for minorities, or whether enough progress has been made to make existing laws obsolete, especially in a political atmosphere where an African-American occupies the White House.

As is true in many hot-button social issues, Wednesday's arguments fell along familiar ideological lines, with most justices expressing clear views on when race considerations are proper to ensure a diverse workplace.


Filed under: 360º Follow • Race in America • Supreme Court
soundoff (109 Responses)
  1. Sen Kint

    This is a deservice to minority people. If you want to pass a test, you study hard for it; otherwise, no matter how hard you work on the job, you will always be suspected of incompetence.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:58 pm |
  2. samuel

    If we listen to the city of New Haven's case ...... Remember, the test was proven to be unfair and desparite to minorities by every court so far, and it was slanted toward the majority. I agree you want the best candidates qualified for promotions or leadership positions., but the playing field must be level and not slant to any one group. This is why affirmative action was started in the first place....let's not forget our recent history ( 1960's). We can do away with affirmative action when we all have the same opportunities to excell.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:58 pm |
  3. John Moesner

    I sincerely hope that the Supreme Court sees this for what it is and that is yet another case where some people studied for the test and some poeple did not. Now the people who did study are being denied promotion because of those who did not. The test was made by experts who were testing knowledge for the job. To say that there could be a racial bias on that basis is pure BUNK. I am a white male and I am very tired of being discriminated against. I was discriminated against while in the military. The military decided that they needed more black officers and they were churning them out as fast as they could, while I could not even apply. I was discriminated while working at Boeing. The women were given an across the board pay raise, but not for the men. Some of the women I worked with made more that I did to start with. So I am tired of being discriminated against because I am a white male and it is high time we start fighting back for our rights.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  4. Todd, Midland, TX

    Does it really matter what color or race you are, or are people just trying to make an excuse or another problem for this country to deal with. WE bring it on ourselfs; its all about white this or black that. Why cant everybody just grow up?The best should always get the job reguardless of race or color. Example: Would you watch professional sports if they didnt have the best ?

    April 28, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  5. Jeff

    Isn't professional basketball unfair to White, Asian & Latino players players? Why don't we see more White, Asian & Latino players in the N.B.A.? Think about this: It is fair that they hire unquafilied men for an impotrant job crucial to saving lives & property, yet in a game only the best are chosen. Does this make sense?

    April 28, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  6. silvia

    whether it's discrimination or reverse discrimination, two wrongs will never make a right.. . promote the candidate that received the highest mark. let's start recognizing excellence in this country again.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:53 pm |
  7. Gale, FL

    I agree wholeheartly with Annie Kate's and Tamsmy's comments. And would like to add: What job is more important to have high-level very-qualified employees than in life-saving professions such as Firemen and Policemen – regardless of the color of their skin? I want the best qualified when my life is in danger. I'm very disappointed and saddened to hear our legal (very powerful) attorneys agreed with the City.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:52 pm |
  8. Chris

    First let me preface this email. It's not about inferiority...My two son's who are black had one of the highest SAT scores in their school. they did better than their white, Asian, and Latin peers....Hence, as a black man I think this is a shame. Evidently, the black counterparts either did not prepare well or can't take test too well. It's not fair for those who passed the test to have been discriminated against.

    To my White and Latin brothers I support your complaint. To my black brothers and sisters, you have to wait until next time...In meantime learn how to take test.

    Do the right thing...

    April 28, 2009 at 10:51 pm |
  9. Bobilero

    Yes, there is discrimination, and reverse discrimination. The problem is the job should go to the most qualified. That will not happen. Political correctness is the key, if you don't agree, your a racist. If you have a problem and your white. Oh well, your a racist. I'm tired of affirmative action, and these so called "good will programs". Many people of many nations have overcome obstacles to become great citizens. Quit pampering people on race. Get busy. and get over the damn past.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  10. Taino

    I am an active member of the only full time paid department in my state , and in the history of this department there have been only one other hispanic officer . I am now a lieutenant and currently the only active hispanic officer at this time, that being said there is a vast difrence in the number of white officers and minorities . Is the system unjust ? I didn't hear this lieutenant complaining on TV about when he got promoted to lieutenat ! But now he seems to be bent out of shape because he is not going to be given the rank of captain , Wake up ! It is politics , what we need to see is how many white officers there are in that department and how many black and hispanics there are. I can tell you with out have ever gone to that state that there is a gigantic disparity between the two . Why is he not saying that on national T.V.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  11. Barry Watts, Baton Rouge, LA

    This is ridiculous and makes even a diehard liberal angry. The purpose of testing is to determine who is best qualified. Make the test simpler and everyone will pass it, then what? Maybe they should just put everyone's name in a hat and draw names.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  12. Dennis & Di

    Enough of being PC! That should apply to computers only!! If everyone knows when the test is, those who study and pass should get the promotion. This is still supposed to be a democracy, isn't it? Those in charge should award the people who score the best with no hesitation or questions asked. Those that can do, those who can't will complain. Award the positions, don't make them sue to obtain what they earned!!

    April 28, 2009 at 10:47 pm |
  13. Jen

    Reverse discrimination against whites has been happening for quite some time. At last, America has finally put a black man in the oval office however, so now there can be some light shed on the issue without it being considered "racist" or "faux pas". Affirmative Action is outdated and these men deserve to be heard all the way to the Supreme Court. I for one am THRILLED that it is creating some awareness!

    April 28, 2009 at 10:47 pm |
  14. Glen-La

    When will we discontinue giving more points or fewer points because of your race? I think that it is time to drop this practice and allow everyone to compete as human beings!

    April 28, 2009 at 10:45 pm |
  15. Janet

    My husband is a firefighter in a major city. As a candidate, he worked hard to learn the job. When he took promotion tests, he studied extremely hard for at least a year each time. Others didn't bother to study because they knew they didn't need to. Our city "jumps" qualified white firefighters to promote minorities. He took the Captain's test over a year ago – no results yet though – the city is still manipulating the results. Frustrating? Discriminatory? Dangerous?
    Yes to all of the above. Do you want firefighters who are not qualified? Well if you do, you will be glad to know that you have them.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  16. Mary

    Blacks get more special treatment in school scholarships, grading on tests, lower interest on mortgages, and jobs given only because they are black. That is Discrimination against whites!!! We need to have everyone treated equally and everyone has to earn there way. There should be no free rides.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  17. Gary Novit

    I'd like to know some examples of test questions that make a test discriminatory; or is that the act of preparing for a test is an unfamiliar concept to a particular race that gives whites an unfair advantage?

    April 28, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  18. Bob

    So if the results of a race-neutral test favor one race over another, it's discriminatory? This is NUTS. If a person can do the job (or in this case, best qualified), they should be given the job REGARDLESS OF RACE, GENDER OR SEXUAL PREFERENCE.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  19. Mike Tubbs

    According to how these tests were judged..."I am white, so therefore my opinion doesn't count."

    April 28, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  20. Will, Las Cruces, NM

    I really would have liked to hear how the city said the test discriminated. The people of that town must feel wonderful knowing that their taxes are going to promote potentially less qualified people to protect them.

    It is the same for getting into law school. I scored relatively high on the LSAT and my wife, from Taiwan, is just a likely to be accepted to a better university with a lower score.

    My best wishes to the group of firefighters seeking promotion. My thesis covered this case, among others over the last 10 years, and I would love to be able to cover it in my defense in my last semester. I hope the Supreme Court takes the next step in creating equality. They need to face the reality that discriminating against a previously benefited class does not create equality, it is reverse discrimination.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm |
  21. Kay

    They didn't mention that the city spent tens of thousands of dollars to hire a private company to ensure that the test was not racially biased beforehand. The company the city hired deemed the test free of racial bias.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm |
  22. Chuck

    Why is it that whenever whites outscore minorities on a promotion test, the claim is that the test is biased? What kind of questions were asked that being born white enabled one to perform better than one born black? Is there a special language the test authors use that is designed for white Americans? I thought we all were taught the same English in our school systems. What is the point in administering qualification exams if scores don't count? It is time that we gave promotions based on competency, not race, creed or religion.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm |
  23. Tim Tucker

    why have test...? If you are not going to use them to score the best person for the job...lets just hire for skin color or gender..And if we are going to use only test...what about oral test not just written test...I had to take written test as well as oral test in Grad school...if you are really interested in finding the best possible person for the job...have a panel to score the overall results.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:41 pm |
  24. Tharu Bansa

    Why do we talk about reverse discrimination only when White Americans are affected?

    In Corporate America and in Government, Asian Americans are seriously underrepresented relative to their qualifications (in advanced degrees such as MBAs)

    April 28, 2009 at 10:41 pm |
  25. Will in Houston

    Some time test are based on culture norms which do not exist in some communities. I travel all over the U.S. and lived in Houston, but had more social cultural norms with my wife who lived in Hew York. It had to do with how we were raised the language that common between us, but not spoken in a Texas Afircian American community.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  26. kathy

    So the TEST is at fault because the minorities can't pass it? How can a firefighting test be geared to whites?! Let's be real!!! Also, regarding comments about black award shows, black clubs, etc., the reason they exist is "white man's guilt". The courts persist in punishing innocent white people for slavery of long, long ago. I refuse to share that guilt. Additionally, blacks conveniently forget that MLK said not to judge skincolor, yet they play the race card constantly. Lastly, we have 2 people in the White House precisely BECAUSE of affirmative action! So much for color blind in this country!

    April 28, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  27. T A Evans

    I was in Mexico City last Thursday. My company asked me to stay home. How long should I stay home if I was expose?Tracy

    April 28, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  28. Diepiriye Kuku

    "Reverse discrimination" is a misnomer! Racism is bad in any direction, so are disparities & focussing on identity politics brings us no closer to dealing with the lived & present reality of our collective past. Keep following the Obamas, especially Madame, who is a living example fo how we can get creative about dialogue.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  29. alyson leonard

    I support the new haven 20

    April 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm |
  30. Christine

    Alright, I just watched the CNN segment on this topic. What I am more concerned about is–what was in the exam that people felt the need to throw out the results? What was in the exam that meant that the majority of “minorities” would fail? AND how many times has this exam or version of this exam been implemented and given out? Because, if this was something that was given out repeatedly in the past that is very, very wrong. It means that minorities in the firefighting occupation have been given the short end of the stick for several years and it’s only NOW that something is being done about it. Another question is—why did it take so long for something to be done about this exam? Is it because we now have a visible, “minority” as a president of the U.S?

    April 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm |
  31. Bob Kurtz

    I have many black colleagues who would be offended if they were given special treatment because of their color because they don't need it, they are smart enough. Stop treating blacks like they are slow, it's offensive to a lot of them. IT IS 2009 for gods sake!!

    April 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm |
  32. CraiginJersey

    This case is so obvious, it is actually an embarrassment to those who would see some sort of anti-minority bias.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm |
  33. Princess

    I am tired of reverse discrimination and feel horrible for these people who are not getting promotions. Reverse discrimination is a huge issue for caucasions, particularly with scholarship money. Unfortunately, European Americans do not get special scholarships from universities for their ethnicity or religion as due minority cultures. It is an issue many and I do mean many caucasians talk about. That in itself is reverse discrimination. Middle class is discriminated with as well in that scenario because unless you are really poor or really rich you cannot receive a scholarship from a university. These issues in themselves keep the economy stagnant.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:37 pm |
  34. Sam

    The issue here is that they had a 100% legally defensible test that was provided to them. The test has been shown to be unbiased between groups. When it was administered to this group, the top scorers happened to all be in the majority. They scrapped this test that had been used in the past to distinguish top performers from others in an attempt to be politically correct. By doing this, they threw out any legal defense that they might have had.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:36 pm |
  35. Dan Erik

    It's called "four legs good, two legs bad", as Orwell put it...

    April 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm |
  36. Larry

    Why are african-americans so against Dr. King's plea to judge a man not by the color of his skin?

    April 28, 2009 at 10:07 pm |
  37. Jim M

    Promotional tests for police, firefighter, paramedic, etc. should be based on knowledge of the subject matter of the field and the level of ability in applying that knowledge.

    There should be no reason for such tests to contain or weight answers for cultural, social or economic background differences.

    There is no need to void such test results simply because there is not a proportional number of minority command personnel to non-command personnel.

    The end result should be quality not quantity.

    April 28, 2009 at 9:10 pm |
  38. Mike, Syaracuse, NY

    The test is the test. If it contains what a LT or Capt needs to know to do the job then it's irrelevant how many of what race passes or not. Pick the best qualified people. As long as everyone had the same opportunity to be tested, there is no issue with accepting the results.

    April 28, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  39. Lampe

    Tyra: Give me a break! There are Black Colleges,Black Beauty Pagents,just to name a few more things. Do you think thats fair. If A college refused a AA to it's school because it was White only, there would be Hell to pay. Or, how about if Miss USA, or Miss America, only allowed Whites, what do you think would happen? I can tell you what would happen Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, would be having a fit. It can no longer be both ways!

    April 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm |
  40. Mike in NYC

    Average scores attained by blacks on standardized tests that have been specially constructed to eliminate "bias" are still consistently below the average scores attained by Whites.

    There's only one logical conclusion, and I'll let the intelligent - and in this day and age, the courageous - draw it themselves.

    April 28, 2009 at 7:35 pm |
  41. Annie Kate

    Any job or promotion should go to the one best qualified regardless of race or any other criteria. Higher jobs come with more responsibility so one needs more knowledge and capability to be able to do them. Throwing out test results because some minorities don't do well on them isn't doing anyone any good. We all need to be held to a standard of excellance.

    April 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm |
  42. Heather,ca

    I think people should hired and promoted based on their ability and not skin color. The only way to get equality is to practice it. Discrimination cab apply to anyone. They have a valid case. You cant just pick and choose how to enforce laws and who deserves a fair chance. I dont understand why anyone would deny anyone a job or promotion simply because of the color their skin. Its rediculious. Its wrong.

    April 28, 2009 at 6:47 pm |
  43. Tamsmy, Berwick, LA

    So are they saying minorities are too dumb to pass promotion tests so another standard is needed? C'mon. You've got two African American Ivy Leaguers sitting in the White House as President and First Lady who prove that hard work and smarts equal success. Sounds like a crock of you know what to me if these people don't win the case.

    April 28, 2009 at 5:51 pm |
  44. debinaz

    if they state eoe, then these firefighters should win this case and this town deserves what it gets.....this is a standard test and these fire fighters should be promoted....i think they do give extra points on the test if you are a vet or a person of color as well anyway.....the folks that didnt score as well just need to study a little harder for the next go around....

    April 28, 2009 at 5:45 pm |
  45. Terry D - CT

    Afirmative action served a great need at one time in our history. But isn't it time we get back to promoting the most qualified to the next level.
    If I have a fire in my home, I want the most qualified person leading the team that is trying to save my home. - And especially if it means saving members of my family.
    This case has nothing to do about Awards Shows That is fluf of no consequence.

    April 28, 2009 at 5:41 pm |
  46. Tyra

    And until blacks are equally represented in Awards shows, magazines, congress, college and National Advancement there will continue to be Black awards, Magazines, CBC, UNCF and NAACP... And least i forget BET and Black History Month...

    April 28, 2009 at 5:01 pm |
  47. durox

    this made me remember what and old man told me one day: ' the white young american man, has these days fewer rights that you might think...'

    April 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm |
  48. earle,florida

    ain't there enough pots on the stove cooking slowly,or boiling over,never mind what's burning in the oven. c'mon guys, let's chill for awhile. the chef,and his cooks need a break ,too,...?

    April 28, 2009 at 4:27 pm |
  49. Trav

    You can only be a racist or discriminatory if you are white. You can only be a victim of racism or discrimination if you are a person of color. This has been the belief perpetuated for many years by learned social progressives. Thank goodness some people still retain the capability of independent thought and common sense.

    April 28, 2009 at 4:02 pm |
  50. Larry

    There's no reverse-discrimination; that's like saying Affirmative-Action is reverse-discrimination, that Essence Awards, Ebony Awards, Congressional Black Caucus, UNCF, NAACP are discriminatory is ridiculous. Awards shows, TV shows Congressional White Caucus and magazines that are only for white people, now that would be disciminatory.

    April 28, 2009 at 3:52 pm |
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