- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is weighing whether a Connecticut city’s decision to scrap a promotion exam for firefighters because too few minorities passed violates the civil rights of top-scoring white applicants.

The justices are hearing arguments Wednesday in a case from New Haven, Conn., that has the potential to change hiring practices nationwide. The court also was expected to issue opinions in cases argued earlier this term.

The firefighters’ dispute is one of two major civil rights cases on the court’s calendar in the next two weeks. The other deals with a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Underlying both cases are broader questions about racial progress and the ongoing need for legal protections from discrimination for minorities, especially after the election of President Barack Obama.

The discrimination lawsuit brought by 20 white firefighters _ one also is Hispanic _ challenges New Haven’s decision to throw out promotion exams for lieutenants and captains in its fire department.

The city argues that if it had gone ahead with the promotions based on the test results, it would have risked a lawsuit claiming that the exams had a “disparate impact” on minorities in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The federal appeals court in New York upheld a lower court ruling dismissing the lawsuit.

The case has drawn input from interest groups across the ideological spectrum. The Obama administration has weighed in mainly on the city’s side, although it recommends allowing the lawsuit to proceed on a limited basis.

Business interests also have lined up behind New Haven, worrying that a decision in favor of the white firefighters would place employers in an untenable position of having to choose whether to face lawsuits from disgruntled white or minority workers.

The consolidated cases are Ricci v. DeStefano, 07-1428, and Ricci v. DeStefano, 08-328.

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