Mon, Jun 29, 2009 - Page 7 News List

US Supreme Court to decide final cases before break


A closely watched discrimination lawsuit by white firefighters who say they have unfairly been denied promotions is one of three remaining Supreme Court cases awaiting resolution today.

The court intends to finish its work for the summer today, Chief Justice John Roberts said. The court will also say goodbye to Justice David Souter, who has announced he will retire “when the court rises for the summer recess.”

Sonia Sotomayor, nominated to take Souter’s place, was one of three appeals court judges who ruled that officials in New Haven, Connecticut, acted properly in throwing out firefighters’ promotions exams because of racially skewed results.

The city says it decided not to use the test scores to determine promotions because it might have been vulnerable to claims the exam had a “disparate impact” on minorities in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The white firefighters said the decision violated the same law’s prohibition on intentional discrimination.

The opinion that Sotomayor endorsed has been criticized as a cursory look at a tough issue. Among the critics are fellow judges on the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Her defenders have said the short opinion properly applied earlier cases from that appeals court.

The outcome of the case could alter how employers in both the public and private sectors make job-related decisions.

The other two unsettled cases involve campaign finance law and states’ ability to investigate alleged discrimination in lending by national banks.

The court is considering whether a movie that was critical of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign should be regulated as a campaign ad.

The scathing 90-minute documentary about the former New York senator was made by a conservative group. It wanted to air television ads in important Democratic primary states and make the movie available to cable subscribers on demand, without complying with federal campaign finance law.

The Federal Election Commission and a lower court in Washington have said the not-for-profit group, Citizens United, must abide by campaign finance restrictions. The high court’s conservative justices appeared especially skeptical of that view when the case was argued in March.

In the dispute over investigating national banks, the administration of US President Barack Obama says federal law prohibits states from looking at the lending practices of those banks, even under state anti-discrimination laws.

Federal courts have so far blocked an investigation begun by New York, which is backed by the other 49 states, of whether minorities were being charged higher interest rates on home mortgage loans by national banks with branches in New York.

Obama’s proposed overhaul of financial regulation could make the outcome of the case less important. The proposal would create a consumer protection office and states would be empowered to enforce their own laws, with some degree of coordination with the new federal agency.

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