WASHINGTON – Frank Ricci, the white firefighter who recently won his reverse discrimination case at the Supreme Court, said Thursday that an unfavorable ruling by Sonia Sotomayor and other judges "divides people who don't wish to be divided along racial lines." Ricci and his firefighting colleague from New Haven, Conn., Lt. Ben Vargas, denounced the appeals court ruling by Sotomayor and two other judges on the federal appeals court in New York. But in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, neither man voiced opposition to Sotomayor's confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.
Vargas, in fact, identified himself as Hispanic and congratulated the 55-year-old judge who would be the high court's first Hispanic.
Ricci, Vargas and other firefighters sued New Haven after the city threw out the results of a promotion exam for lieutenants and captains after too few minorities did well.
A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, a decision upheld by Sotomayor's appellate panel in a one-paragraph opinion that has been criticized as much for its brevity as the result.
Late last month, the Supreme Court found in favor of the complaining firefighters in a 5-4 ruling that reversed the appeals court. Given the topic — race discrimination — Sotomayor's nomination and the timing, the decision has become a focus of her confirmation hearing.
Sotomayor testified repeatedly that she was bound by earlier rulings to reach the conclusion she did. Her appeals court colleague and one-time mentor, Jose Cabranes, issued an unusual opinion after Sotomayor's panel decision disagreeing with her.
Senate Republicans invited the men to testify on a panel that included witnesses both for and against Sotomayor's confirmation. Their appearance followed the conclusion of Sotomayor's four days in the witness chair.
Ricci told the panel that "achievement is neither limited nor determined by one's race, but by one's skills, dedication, commitment and character."
The court rulings against him reflected a flawed belief "that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics," he said. "It only divides people who don't wish to be divided along racial lines."
Ricci said that the appeals court ruling also called attention to his dyslexia even though the case "had nothing to do with it."
"It had everything to do with ensuring our command officers were competent to answer the call and our right to advance in our profession based on merit regardless of race," he said.
Vargas, one of only two Hispanics who scored well enough to be considered for promotion, said in response to questions from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that he had been called disloyal to the Hispanic community for joining the lawsuit.