Jun 292009

There’s been a lot of buzz in the #tlot and #tcot tags on Twitter about the latest SCOTUS ruling. In Ricci v. DeStefano, the Supreme Court court overruled a decision that nominee Sonya Sotomayor contributed to.

“New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.”

I tend to agree that this decision rightly overturned an abuse of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that amounted to reverse discrimination. However, as far as I know libertarians don’t care much for this misnamed (in their view) law (c.f., “Civil Rights Act” search at LewRockwell.com). The trouble seems to be, and I’m inclined to agree, that the government has no rightful authority to determine whom business owners hire, promote, demote, or fire. Nor does government have a right to determine with whom a private business will freely contract. To applaud this ruling would seem to legitimize the Civil Rights Act. On the other hand, a fire department is not a private business but a public one. As such, it should be barred from favoritism by the same chains that (at least nominally) bind other aspects of American governing bodies and their public endeavors. I suppose some libertarians might use this fact as an opportunity to remind readers that governments shouldn’t be in the firefighting business, or any other business for that matter. As a minarchist, though, I don’t have a problem with firefighting as a public business, per se. I would, however, like to see private management companies contracted to run them. But I digress.

In the end, I’m not sure what the big deal about this decision is, other than the sensationalism attached to the Sotomayor angle and the good news of a blow struck against reverse discrimination. Does anyone else think this ruling a mixed bag for libertarians?┬áHave I missed something? Is there some other reason libertarians seem to be excited about this ruling? Is it just because they don’t want Sotomayor on the bench? I’m neither a lawyer, a constitutional scholar, nor a well-read libertarian, so I welcome and encourage comments and constructive feedback.

Addendum: Stephen Kinsella seems similarly unimpressed.