Last week I watched Lt. Ben Vargas testify at the Senate confirmation hearing of Judge Sotomayor. Lt Vargas is a Hispanic member of the New Haven, CT fire department and was one of the plaintiffs in the racial discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of the New Haven firefighters, who were denied promotion after passing a test of their competence for the position of Captain. These Firefighters, including Lt. Vargus, sacrificed time with their families for months and in some cases income from second jobs to study for the job related test. As I would want if I ever needed Lt. Vargas and his crew in an emergency, the test was hard and not everyone passed! This time, many of those who failed were African American, with none passing. There was the threat of a lawsuit by African Americans who failed the test, just the threat mind you, and the city buckled and threw out the results. These Firefighters earned a promotion and they were denied it unjustly.
As Lt. Vargas put it:
“…I was shocked when I was not rewarded for this hard work and sacrifice, but I actually was penalized for it. I became not Ben Vargas the fine Lt. who proved himself qualified to be Captain, but a racial statistic….”
Why was Race an issue? Would anyone care about the race of a firefighter who comes to your aid in an emergency?
As he put it:
“…The focus should not have been on me being Hispanic; the focus should have been on what I did to earn a promotion to Captain and how my own Government and some courts responded to that. In short they didn’t care!! … I played by the rules and then endured a long process of asking the courts to enforce those rules. In our profession the racial and ethnic make up of my crew is the least important thing to us and to the public we serve…Americans want those who are the most knowledgeable and qualified to do the task.”
Well, maybe not all Americans. As we all know, the case for equality brought by the firefighters was summarily dismissed without comment or clarification when the case was brought before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Sotomayor. In the case, the Firefighters raised serious Constitutional questions that the Appeals Court and Judge Sotomayor simply ignored. I will say that again, they ignored the Constitutional issues raised by the firefighters simply seeking what they had earned. If Judge Sotomayor fails to even respond to legitimate Constitutional questions raised in a case before her, why would any of us believe she should be deciding these issues on a daily basis when there is no place to appeal??
“I expected lady justice with the blindfolds on and a reasoned opinion from a federal court of appeals… I expected the judges who heard my case along the way to make the right decisions, the ones required by the rule of law.”
What he got was injustice from Judge Sotomayor and her colleagues on the 2nd Circuit.
“I had to make decisions whether to join those who wanted promotions to be based on race and ethnicity or join those who would insist on being judged solely on their qualifications and the content of their character. I am proud of the decision I made and proud of the principle that our group vindicated together. … I was not willing to go along with those who place racial identity over these more critical considerations…”
When Judge Sotomayor was asked to stand up for the Constitution and equal rights for the firefighters being discriminated against, she ruled against those rights. She ignored the Constitutional issues raised, and she simply voted present!
At the hearing Lt. Vargas began his comments with this:
“Senators of both parties have noted the importance of this proceeding because decisions of the United States Supreme Court can greatly impact the everyday lives of ordinary Americans…”
Yes they can Lieutenant!! Do those same Senators who have noted the hearings importance actually believe what they said? Will they stand up for the Constitution and Equal Rights?
For this reason, Americans should oppose the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor and fear her rulings once she is confirmed.
Please take some time to write your Senators with your feelings on this hearing while there is still time!! The lifetime appointment of someone with her lack of concern for the Constitutional Rights of these firefighters can do lasting damage to you, your family and our Republic!