[Guest post by DRJ]
Sonia Sotomayor served for 12 years on the Board of LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), an organization founded to help Puerto Ricans combat discrimination in employment, education, voting, housing, law and other areas. The LA Times recently published an article on Sotomayor’s involvement with PRLDEF, including her involvement in a lawsuit against New York City regarding its police promotion exam:
“While Sotomayor sat on the board, the fund moved beyond traditional civil rights cases and began to address what she called “economic problems” — wage disparities and housing discrimination. A major target became civil service exams that the fund argued had a negative effect on Latinos and other minorities. It filed separate suits against New York City’s police, fire and sanitation departments.
In 1984, while Sotomayor was on the board, the fund alleged on behalf of a group of Latino police officers that a sergeant’s exam violated federal law because minorities did poorly on the test and its questions were not related to being an effective police supervisor. Fewer than 80% of the test takers were white, but the results indicated they would get 95% of the promotions.
Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., New York City’s top lawyer at the time, said recently that “it was almost impossible to prove that pen-and-paper tests” reflected who was most qualified for promotion. At the same time, the police commissioner was in desperate need of new sergeants. So the department settled the case by agreeing to promote an extra 100 black officers and 60 Latinos.
New York “had to reach down and [promote] some patrol officers who were black and Latinos who hadn’t passed” the test, said Kenneth Kimerling, the defense fund’s lawyer on the case.
Though Sotomayor was not actively involved in litigating the case, she has taken credit for helping to develop the group’s policy of filing such suits.”
PRLDEF supports Sotomayor’s confirmation and, in advance of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings starting Monday, the AP interviewed PRLDEF founder Cesar Perales who seems to be minimizing Sotomayor’s participation in the New York promotion exam cases:
“Sotomayor held leadership roles on the legal defense fund’s board from 1980 to 1992, starting soon after she graduated from law school and began working, leaving it when she became a federal judge. Perales has described her role as helping with fundraising and setting policy and said she was not directly involved with the group’s legal arguments and activities.”
The idea that Sotomayor was “not directly involved” in legal matters is consistent with the White House claim that Sotomayor’s involvement in PRLDEF was limited, but at least one GOP Senator disagrees:
“Perhaps there is confusion about Judge Sotomayor’s role with PRLDEF, and that confusion may account for your unusual interest,” [White House counsel Gregory] Craig wrote, adding, “Judge Sotomayor was never an employee of PRLDEF nor did she ever supervise the work of PRLDEF staff.”
[Senator Jeff] Sessions disputed Craig’s characterization of Sotomayor’s involvement with the group as peripheral, saying she was deeply involved with the group for more than a decade.
“Judge Sotomayor served in senior leadership roles at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund for 12 years,” Sessions said, including chairwoman of the organization’s litigation committee and vice president of the board of directors.”
The LA Times’ excerpt noted above (that Sotomayor “has taken credit for helping to develop the group’s policy of filing such suits”) supports Sessions’ claim. In addition, the AP article confirms Sotomayor chaired the litigation committee during this period:
“The [New Haven] case bears similarities to a case PRLDEF brought on behalf of Hispanic New York City sanitation workers who sought to stop white employees from getting promotions, arguing that the promotion exams unfairly disadvantaged minorities. Sotomayor chaired the board’s litigation committee at the time.”
This should be an area that gets attention from the GOP Senators during Sotomayor’s confirmation.