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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

July 4, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Discrimination ruling: Supreme Court was right to side with firefighters

No reason why firefighters’ tests should have been discarded

I think Lynne K. Varner’s column, “Court majority blind to racism” [Opinion, July 1], totally ignores one important aspect of the issue — the fact that having their test results thrown out was grossly unfair to the 18 firefighters who passed the test.

I agree with Varner that it is sometimes necessary for the state to use its power to try to mitigate racial injustice, but such efforts should aim only at lifting up the victims of racial oppression so they have as fair a shot as anyone.

That is, in forming a policy that addresses the problem of racial injustice, we do not seek equality but fairness. Varner suggest in her column that there exists a history of racism toward blacks in the New Haven, Conn., firefighting community. Let’s assume this is true — that racial injustice is endemic to New Haven firehouses.

Even if that is so, throwing out the results of the test in question was still an unfair policy. Varner references Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, that “equal opportunity in fact, and not simply in form” was the aim of the policy that led to the nullification of the test.

What is that statement but a way of saying that practical policies that succeed at addressing the issue in specific situations are more important than abstract principles, that the Bill of Rights doesn’t mean anything if Rosa Parks can’t sit down on a public bus?

But what of the firefighters’ case? What does a firefighter care about racial harmony when he must have his career held back or derailed because the city of New Haven ran into a hiccup in its grand plan for racial equality? Is the firefighters’ grievance not legitimate?

If not, then certainly it is permissible to apply similar logic elsewhere. We should have applied Ginsburg’s brand of “equal opportunity in fact” in times past. Because blacks were not free, would that whites be enslaved? Because a weary Parks could not sit in peace, should the rest of us have stood as well? And because one black firefighter was not promoted, neither could 18 white ones succeed?

The goal of justice is to prevent and eradicate wickedness, not impose it generally. That injustice exists in our country is not a worthwhile excuse for the state to reduce all of us to an equal level of misery.

— Caleb DiPeso, Covington

Court decision wasn’t a retreat from good policy

The Seattle Times heralded the Supreme Court’s decision in the Connecticut firefighters case [“High court’s retreat puts employers on notice,” page one, June 30] as a “retreat” — presumably from racially mandated preferences. The decision represents a retreat in the same sense as the overthrow of the Soviet system in Russia represents a retreat from almost 70 years of totalitarian communist rule.

— Arlene N. Heath, Seattle

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