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Sen. Patrick Leahy Holds a Hearing on the Nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to Be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
I might note that every Republican member of this committee still serving in the Senate supported that statement of the law. So you have a binding precedent. You and two other judges came to a unanimous decision. Your decision deferred to the district court's ruling allowing the city's voluntary determination that could not justify using that paper-and-pencil test under our civil rights laws and settled -- you said it was settled judicial precedent.
A majority of the Second Circuit later voted not to revisit the panel's unanimous decision; therefore, they upheld your decision.
So you had Supreme Court precedent. You had your circuit precedent. You upheld within the circuit. Subsequently, it went to the Supreme Court and five -- a bare majority -- five justices reversed the decision, and reversed their precedent, and many have said that they created a new interpretation of the law.
Ironically, if you had done something other than follow the precedent, some would be now attacking you as being an activist. You followed the precedent. So now they attack you as being biased and racist. It's kind of a unique thing. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
How do you react to the Supreme Court's decision in the New Haven firefighters case?
SOTOMAYOR: You are correct, Senator, that the panel, made up of myself and two other judges in the Second Circuit, decided that case on the basis of the very thorough 78-page decision by the district court and on the basis of established precedent.
The issue was not what we would do or not do, because we were following precedent, and you, when on (ph) circuit court, are obligated on a panel to follow established circuit precedent. The issue in Ricci was what the city did or could do when it was presented with a challenge to one of its tests that -- for promotion.
This was not a quota case; this was not an affirmative action case. This was a challenge to a test that everybody agreed had a very wide difference between the pass rate of a variety of different groups. The city was faced with the possibility recognized in law that the employees who were disparately impacted -- that's the terminology used in the law and is a part of the civil rights amendment that you were talking about in 1991 -- that those employees who could show a disparate impact, a disproportionate pass rate, that they could bring a suit and that then the employer had to defend the test that it gave.
The city here, after a number of days of hearings and a variety of different witnesses, decided that it wouldn't certify the test and it wouldn't certify it in an attempt to determine whether they could develop a test that was of equal value in measuring qualifications, but which didn't have a disparate impact.
And so the question before the panel was, was the decision a -- of the city based on race or based on its understanding of what the law required it to do?
SOTOMAYOR: Given Second Circuit precedent, Bushey v. New York State -- New York State Civil Services Commission, the panel concluded that the city's decision in that particular situation was lawful under established law.
The Supreme Court, in looking and review that case, applied a new standard. In fact, it announced that it was applying a standard from a different area of law and explaining to employers and the courts below how to look at this question in the future.