Two New Haven firefighters testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Their case, Ricci v. DeStefano, has figured prominently in Sonia Sotomayor's nomination and confirmation process. It was the first thing her conservative opponents used to attack her, before her actual nomination when she was seen as a frontrunner in President Obama's search. It's part of the narrative that she's racially biased; GOP senators have suggested the opinion offered by the case's three-judge panel (of which Sotomayor was one) wasn't long enough and gave short shrift to the firefighters' complaint; Sotomayor has countered that it wasn't up to her panel to rule for Ricci, that it needed a precedent from the Supreme Court. The fireifighters eventually got it, when the Supreme Court ruled in their favor June 29.
Frank Ricci, a witness for the GOP side of the committee, addressed the hearing today. The firefighters are expected to score some points against Sotomayor for her opposition, but Ricci didn't take direct aim at the nominee--rather the process he went through and the decisions against him along the way.
"Despite the important civil rights and constitutional claims we raised," Ricci said, the decision "consisted of a single paragraph that made mention of my dyslexia...which led many to believe this case was about me" and the learning disability.
"The lower court's belief that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics is flawed. It only divides people who do not wish to be divided," Ricci said, calling it "contrary to sounds public policy."
"Minority firefighters were victimized as well, Ricci said. " As a result of our case, they should now enjoy the career advancement that they earned and deserve."
In all, Ricci's testimony offered strong words on the principles behind his court complaint and on the opinion issued by Sotomayor's panel--but no arrows at Sotomayor herself (unlike fellow GOP witness Linda Chavez, chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a contributor to Fox News as an analyst, who opened her testimony by saying, "I testify today not as a wise Latina woman..." and urged Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) directly not to vote for Sotomayor).
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