Commentary: Sotomayor shows common sense, not bias

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 24, 2009
Sonia Sotamayor was part of an appeals court panel that okayed the city of New Haven’s decision to throw out the results of an exam in which white firefighters scored higher than African Americans and all but one Latino. The Supreme Court overruled the decision. Proof, some say, that Sotomayor is racially biased and unfit for the high court.

Nonsense! At its heart, the New Haven case is about the validity of a test. Part of a promotional exam for captains and lieutenants, the multiple-choice written test counted for 60% of a candidate’s score. In a vetting process for command positions, to give that much weight to a written test is unusual. A multiple choice test is no more suited for selecting the best person to lead firefighters at a disaster scene than it would be to select a general to command an army in battle.

As Justice Ginsberg wrote for the dissent, “A firefighter’s job involves complex behaviors, good interpersonal skills, the ability to make decisions under tremendous pressure, and a host of other abilities - none of which is easily measured by a written multiple-choice test.”

Sotomayor thought so too. That’s not bias, it’s common sense. And it was the law of the land until an activist Supreme Court majority changed it.

Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.