New Haven Official 'Disappointed' By Ruling The Supreme Court ruled Monday that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race. Victor Bolden, the head of the Corporation Counsel in New Haven, discusses the ruling.
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New Haven Official 'Disappointed' By Ruling

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New Haven Official 'Disappointed' By Ruling

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New Haven Official 'Disappointed' By Ruling

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to New Haven and to the city's Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden. As we've heard, the Supreme Court ruled against New Haven today in the firefighter case. Mr. Bolden, welcome to the program.

Mr. VICTOR BOLDEN (Corporation Counsel, New Haven): Oh, thank you for having me, Melissa.

BLOCK: And obviously this is not the result that you would have wanted from the Court today. What's your reaction to the Court's ruling?

Mr. BOLDEN: Well, I mean obviously the city is disappointed in the Court's ruling. But obviously we're now focused on what the law requires us to do and meeting our obligations to follow it.

BLOCK: And how will you do that?

Mr. BOLDEN: Well, we'll see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOLDEN: I mean, we think we have some clarity from the Court, and that the Court has recognized that there's a Title VII violation and that issue will go back to the district court for further proceedings. And we'll resolve any outstanding issues there.

BLOCK: Beyond these individual plaintiffs, there are broader questions of what kind of testing New Haven might use in the future. Do you think that what the Court said today is basically - this test is fine, shouldn't have been thrown out. You can use it again.

Mr. BOLDEN: Well, I think what's very, very important for people to understand is that the city of New Haven was in a very, very difficult situation. While the Supreme Court says now, you shouldn't worry about the Title VII issues that the city was concerned about. At the time, they were certainly viable issues and issues of great concern. To place this in context, the city has faced decades of litigation by African-American firefighters concerned about discriminatory promotional practices. The city was sued in the 1970s and lost and had to engage in media relief then.

In the 1980s, the city was sued by the African-American firefighters again involving issues involving promotion and had to then engage in remedies to resolve that. In 1990s, the city again was sued and some of those remedial issues are still being resolved today. So certainly in the context of that a decision by the city to be concerned about liability to African-American firefighters is certainly more than a credible one, and I think certainly valid one.

BLOCK: I wanted to run by you something that Justice Ginsburg said in her dissenting opinion, and she said better tests in other cities yield less racially skewed outcomes. Have you seen those tests? Would you consider using those to replace the tests that you use?

Mr. BOLDEN: I think certainly the city, going forward, is going to be reviewing how it sort of hires and promotes civil service employees and we certainly want to look at everything.

BLOCK: Are there other tests that you've looked at and thought, no, you know, they ended up with something that seems to be more fair, more minorities advanced and maybe that's a better test that we should be using here?

Mr. BOLDEN: I think we're going to, certainly, try to look at - to create the best system so that we can have the best department. And we also - we hope that that department will also be a racially diverse one as well.

BLOCK: Justice Scalia, who concurred on the majority opinion, wrote a separate opinion and he said that he wished the Court had taken on the broader question. In his words he said, disparate impact provisions of Title VII, from the civil rights law, place a racial thumb on the scales. What do you say to Justice Scalia about that?

Mr. BOLDEN: I think that Title VII has been a wonderful law. It was part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 initially. And of course it's gone through amendments since then. And the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was a watershed moment in this country. That allowed us to move from, you know, severe racial segregation to move closer to being one nation. So, I think Title VII as being part of that hallmark legislation, the Civil Rights Act in 1964, is an important component of what America is about and it should be continued to be an important component of what America is about going forward.

BLOCK: Justice Scalia seems to be saying it's having a discriminatory impact on whites in this case.

Mr. BOLDEN: Well, Title VII in the Civil Rights Act in 1964 has both been around for a number of years. It has been something that has gotten strong support from the Supreme Court in a number of other decisions. It certainly has gotten support of numerous presidents, both Democratic and Republican. So, I think it's a good law and it's a good law that should continue.

BLOCK: I'm not quite sure how this all plays out. It's very complicated. But once the Supreme Court ruling is put into place and promotions are made, are you anticipating that there would be a lawsuit from black firefighters who are not promoted saying they've been discriminated against.

Mr. BOLDEN: I'm not going to comment on that, one way or the other.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOLDEN: I don't know what's going to happen. I think, you know, the city will do it's best to sort of follow the law.

BLOCK: Don't want to anticipate any lawsuits that - don't want to give anybody any ideas, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOLDEN: Certainly, I view the principal response of my job is to try to do the best I can to keep the city out of legal difficulty and certainly I have no interest in trying to invite any.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOLDEN: …legal problems for the city.

BLOCK: Victor Bolden, thank you very much.

Mr. BOLDEN: Oh, it was a pleasure being here.

BLOCK: Victor Bolden is the Corporation Counsel for the city of New Haven.

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