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Expert on racial discrimination law criticizes Supreme Court ruling in Ricci Case

Release Date: June 30, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Athena D. Mutua, law professor at the University at Buffalo, today criticized the Supreme Court's reverse discrimination ruling that determined New Haven officials acted illegally when denying white firefighters promotions, calling it another example of a double standard working against equality for people of color.

"The Ricci v. DeStefano decision is very disappointing to those of us who are committed to working for racial and social justice in the real world of the United States," said Mutua, an expert on racial discrimination law. "But the decision is not at all surprising. The ideologically conservative justices who have a slight majority on the court have for many years now been very sympathetic to white people's claims of discrimination, even though the country and its major institutions do not have a history of oppressing and discriminating against whites. That is, there is no intent to discriminate against white people. On the other hand, those who control the country have an overwhelmingly long and tragic history of oppressing and discriminating against blacks and other non-whites, and have built this oppression into most of the country's major institutions."

Mutua described the court as "largely unsympathetic to remedying this history, its present day manifestations or its present continuities." While individual whites merely have to show that race was a consideration in some determination in order to have their claims remedied, she says, blacks, other nonwhites and their advocates usually have to actually prove "Intent."

"And it's intent with a capital I,' she says. "That is, they have to prove that some individual intentionally intended to discriminate against them to meet the court's highest standards of review."

The law scholar said she was "surprised" that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision.

"Kennedy imposes a new standard that he imports from equal protection analysis, an analysis developed and pushed by the Supreme Court's ideologically conservative branch," she said. "The justice imports this standard – a new standard in this area, imposes it, largely without cites to precedent, and then denies the City of New Haven an opportunity to try to meet the standard by granting summary judgment for the petitioners."

She called this legal move "outrageous."

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Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
Senior Editor, Law, Social Work and Education
Tel: 716-645-4600
anzalon@buffalo.edu