Friday, May 29, 2009

When Life Experience Apparently Matters (in Politics)

Let me tell you about a man named Frank Ricci. Well, let the Washington Post tell you.

"Ricci is a New Haven firefighter stationed seven blocks from where Sotomayor went to law school (Yale). Raised in blue-collar Wallingford, Conn., Ricci struggled as a C and D student in public schools ill-prepared to address his serious learning disabilities. Nonetheless he persevered, becoming a junior firefighter and Connecticut's youngest certified EMT.

After studying fire science at a community college, he became a New Haven "truckie," the guy who puts up ladders and breaks holes in burning buildings. When his department announced exams for promotions, he spent $1,000 on books, quit his second job so he could study eight to 13 hours a day and, because of his dyslexia, hired someone to read him the material.

He placed sixth on the lieutenant's exam, which qualified him for promotion.

I think you will agree that it is a compelling story. The story does not end well, at least not yet. You see, despite the sacrifice, perseverance, and ultimate success experience by Ricci, he was not promoted. What happened was that of the top scorers there was one Hispanic and the rest were White (Ricci is White). The results were tossed because of it and Ricci, along with the other people who put in the time and effort, were not given the promotion. Ricci and the rest sued. Sotomayor, while serving on the circuit court panel, upheld the dismissal of their case. That decision is now in front of the Supreme Court. It is interesting how Ricci's life experience was apparently of no interest to the main stream media.

Just to be clear, I do not think Ricci's life experience should have mattered in the case. I think the decision was wrong because denying someone a promotion based on the color of their skin is racist. Still, why does the media seem to think that Sotomayor's experiences are important in the legal world apparently not caring about Ricci's life experience? Neither should matter. I think it may have something to do with how that life experience shaped the person.

Slublog seems to agree.

"In October of 1991, the editorial board had a much different opinion of such political considerations:
The fault, in the end, is not that of the nominee but of the man who nominated him, the patron of little-known, untested or inflammatory appointments for offices reaching up to the Vice Presidency. By nominating this black conservative, President Bush serves a narrow partisan interest when the public has a right to expect him to nominate a lawyer or judge of proven distinction.
The Sotomayor editorial has great praise for how Sotomayor's life experience has shaped her judicial rulings. The day after Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, the Times dismissed his life experience because they didn't like how it influenced his judicial philosophy:
As the nation waits to learn more about Clarence Thomas, the questions will concern not so much his talent but his character. Even his rise from poverty and racial isolation will be less interesting than how that experience has affected his regard for other Americans and whether he understands how their lives and rights are affected by law and official action.
The Times editorial board does display a double standard, but at the same time an appalling consistency to the belief that one cannot be a member of a historically aggrieved class and hold conservative viewpoints.

Apparently life experience only matters when it is an apparent liberal or liberal cause that is up for consideration.

Past related posts:
Berman Post: Supreme Court Justice David Souter Will Retire
Berman Post: Obama Comments On Supreme Court Justice David Souter's Retirement
Berman Post: Specter's Defection May Hurt Obama in Picking a New Supreme Court Justice
Berman Post:
Berman Post: Obama Nominates Sonia Sotomayor For Supreme Court Justice
Berman Post: Is Sotomayor a Racist?

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