- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2011

Firefighters live to rescue, but political correctness is undermining this important mission in the Big Apple. Currently, 406 of 8,654 budgeted positions at the Firefighters Department of New York (FDNY) are unfilled because a federal judge and the Justice Department insist rescuing ability must bow to racial quotas.

On Dec. 15, the left-wing Village Voice described the plight of several black firefighter candidates who aced the FDNY entrance exam, only to be blocked from entering the Fire Academy because U.S. district Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis decided the test was too tough for some minority candidates to pass. Although more than 90 percent of blacks and Hispanics passed, the judge ruled the examination was discriminatory because a slightly higher percentage of white applicants did. Contrary to the ruling, these minority success rates are well above the 80 percent standard used by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to decide if a test has a racially “disparate impact.”

Judge Garaufis wasn’t impressed that New York City has spent more than $20 million since 1989 to recruit minority firefighters. He insists minorities be hired in near-exact proportion to the numbers who took the exam, which in turn must more closely mirror the races’ respective percentages of the city’s population. He therefore jettisoned the test results, leaving in limbo those many minorities who passed the exam.

Judge Garaufis is trying to impose quotas, and the Justice Department backs him. This push disregards a high-profile 2009 Supreme Court decision knocking down the same practices. In Ricci v. DeStefano, the court ruled the city of New Haven, Conn., could not discard the results of an objective, neutral firefighter test merely because of a racially disparate passage rate. To do so would be to deliberately choose or reject applicants on the basis of their race, and “this express, race-based decision-making violates Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act.

The lead Justice Department attorney in the FDNY case is Loretta King, who ordered the dismissal of most voter-intimidation charges against Black Panthers in Philadelphia and who is hip-deep in other race-based legal controversies. On Sept. 30, she wrote a memo to Judge Garaufis pitching four proposals to require “representative” or “proportional” quotas. Ms. King glosses over the professional challenges of firefighting to focus on whether minorities feel “stigmatized” or if black firefighters could further their “sense of fairness in their place of employment” if surrounded by more workers of their own race.

Firemen should be hired for ability, not racial bean-counting. The judge’s fiat, wrote Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather MacDonald in the City Journal, “was not just groundless, it was recklessly inflammatory.” The heroic FDNY doesn’t deserve to have its operations so inflamed.