This Monday, June 29, is supposed to be the day when we’ll find out if the Supreme Court overturns Sonia Sotomayor’s notorious decision in Ricci v. DeStefano. Sotomayor permitted New Haven to junk the results of its fire department promotional exams because too many whites had done well on them.
Last week, Slate ran a 5000 word article about the New Haven Fire Department, The Ladder, by senior editor Emily Bazelon and intern Nicole Allan. The article turns into an inadvertent reductio ad absurdum of the Sotomayorian conventional wisdom.Bazelon’s ultimate objection to New Haven’s discarded 2003 testing process is that it wasn’t subjective and arbitrary enough to promote as many minorities as she’s like. She ends her article with a ringing call for a more random selection method that will produce less knowledgeable fire captains and lieutenants...
"The city could come up with a measure for who is qualified for the promotions, rather than who is somehow best. And then it could choose from that pool by lottery."
Bazelon apparently doesn’t know that lotteries are exactly what cities such as Chicago are already doing with the results of firefighter tests, in an attempt to comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s "Four-Fifths Rule". This regulation puts the burden of proof in discrimination cases on employers when blacks aren’t hired or promoted at least 80 percent as often as whites.
There’s a reason you don’t see much in the newspapers about cities hiring firefighters by lottery: this method is terrifying to anybody who might someday be trapped in a burning building. So politicians don’t explain too vividly to the public what exactly they are up to.
Seriously, the careful reader can figure out from Bazelon’s article why New Haven’s white firemen averaged higher on the controversial tests for leadership positions: Because, on the whole, they knew more about how to fight fires.
And why did the whites know more?
In part, because they studied harder.
And, to Bazelon’s mind, that’s just not fair. Bazelon is much exercised by the racial injustice inherent in white firefighters knowing more about how to do their jobs. She says:
"Is this the best way to choose the leaders of a municipal fire department—the best memorizers win?"
Worse, the white firemen are unjustly learning more about fire fighting because they care more about fighting fires. Bazelon continues:
"As one Hispanic quoted anonymously by the New Haven Independent put it, the test favored ‘fire buffs’—guys who read fire-suppression manuals on their downtime …"
To Bazelon, evidently, this is a bad thing.
...In Bazelon’s utopia of racial equality, the whites would be just as apathetic and uninformed about firefighting techniques as the minorities are.