Firefighters Testify On Day Four Of Sotomayor Hearings

A group of predominately white New Haven, Conn., firefighters who claimed reverse discrimination, after a promotion exam was ruled against by then-federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, testified Thursday in the Senate confirmation hearings of the first Latina Supreme Court nominee. Host Michel Martin reviews highlights from their testimony.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

MARTIN: the confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Frank Ricci testified yesterday. He is one of the white firefighters from New Haven, Connecticut, whose claim of discrimination went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court overturned the Court of Appeals ruling against Ricci, in which Sotomayor participated. Ricci spoke to the Senate about it.

MARTIN: Americans have the right to go into our federal courts and have their cases judged based on the Constitution and our laws, not on politics or personal feelings.

MARTIN: Ricci said that in his case, affirmative action hurt everybody.

MARTIN: The more attention our case got, the more some people tried to distort it. It bothered us greatly that some perceived this case as involving a testing process that resulted in minorities being completely excluded from promotions. That was entirely false, as minority firefighters were victimized by the city's decision, as well.

MARTIN: Ben Vargas is the sole Hispanic plaintiff who joined the lawsuit against the city. He also testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He criticized Sotomayor's ruling but praised her for her accomplishments.

MARTIN: I am Hispanic and proud of the heritage and background that Judge Sotomayor and I share. And I congratulate Judge Sotomayor on her nomination. But the focus should not have been on me being Hispanic. The focus should have been on what I did to earn a promotion to captain, and how my own government and some courts responded to that.

MARTIN: The theme of race and ethnicity and their influence in the justice system has been a constant topic during Sonia Sotomayor's hearings. Ben Vargas argued that his case was an example of where racial sensitivity got in the way of the public interest.

MARTIN: In our profession, the racial and ethnic makeup of my crew is the least important thing to us and to the public we serve. I believe that countless Americans who had something to say about our case understand that now.

MARTIN: One senator, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, thanked Ricci and Vargas for pursuing their case under pressure. Senator Hatch said this is one of the most important issues facing the country. Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings are wrapping up. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Democrat who heads the Judiciary Committee, thanked the judge and dismissed her, wishing her godspeed.

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