Is this the American Way?

People for the American Way, the left-wing smear machine, is (In the words of McClatchy press service) quietly targeting Frank Ricci, the Connecticut firefighter whose successful lawsuit for racial discrimination has proven to be so inconvenient for Judge Sotomayor. Specifically, People for the American Way, along with other such drive-by hit artists, is urging reporters to scrutinize Ricci’s allegedly “troubled and litigious work history.” So far, the lefty blogosphere, at least, has taken up the call.

Ricci is on the list of witnesses Republican Senators will call at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing. But does this make his “litigious work history” an issue that deserves scrutiny? It does so only if that history has some relevance to Judge Sotomayor’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court.

And plainly, it has no such relevance. No matter how many actions Ricci may have filed in the past, the only one that pertains to Sotomayor is the one she decided. That suit, in which a substantial number of other plaintiffs joined, was found to be meritorious.

McClatchy notes that when Anita Hill testified during the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, she was subjected to personal attack. But Hill leveled personal accusations against Thomas. Adjudicating the veracity of Hill’s allegations of so-called sexual harassment entailed some inquiry into her credibility and, given the nature of the allegations, her past.

Ricci has leveled no personal attack on Sotomayor, and surely will not do so in his testimony. All he did was file a lawsuit that eventually found its way into a courtroom where she happened to be sitting. To be sure, this ended up exposing Sotomayor as too intellectually dishonest to write a real opinion and too ideologically committed to reverse discrimination to reach a decision that a single Supreme Court Justice could agree with. But that’s not Ricci’s fault. I’m certain that when he filed his suit, he hoped that all judges who heard his case would get it right, or at least treat it seriously.

But what of Ricci’s “troubled” history of litigating employment claims. It consists of a suit claiming disability discrimination when one fire department decided not to hire him (Ricci is dyslexic); an administrative complaint claiming that his discharge by that same fire department was in retaliation for accusing the department of safety violations; and the reverse discrimination suit against the New Haven fire department that Sotomayor mishandled.

Isn’t it odd that an outfit calling itself People for the American Way would call this history “troubling”? One might have thought that such an organization would applaud challenges to disability discrimination, race discrimination, retaliaton, and safety violations.

To be sure, meritless lawsuits are nothing to applaud. But Ricci’s race discrimination claim proved to be meritorious. His disability discrimination claim apparently settled when the fire department in question agreed to hire him. This outcome suggests that this suit also had merit and certainly was not frivolous. Ricci did not prevail on his administrative claim of retaliation, but the department apparently was fined for safety violations he blew the whistle on.

In any case, one ought to be able to file a successful lawsuit and to testify about that case without being “targeted” by the left. If, in the course of his testimony, Ricci misrepresents himself, then of course it will be proper to call him on it. But if he testifies truthfully about the facts relating to the reverse discrimination case he and his colleagues filed, one hopes that the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee will have the decency, or at least the political savvy, not to attack him for asserting his rights in other contexts.

UPDATE: Dahlia Lithwick defends the relevance of attacks on Ricci based on his disability discrimination suit because one conservative blog, in describing the facts of his reverse discrimination case against the New Haven fire department, stated: “Never once did Mr.Ricci request special treatment for his dyslexia challenge.” Lithwick thus reveals her dishonesty, intellectual and otherwise.

First, Ricci isn’t responsible for what a conservative blog writes about him. Second, what the conservative blog wrote about him is true because the blog was claiming only that Ricci never sought special treatment based on his dyslexia in connection with his application for promotion by the New Haven fire department, a fact Lithwick doesn’t dispute.

Moreover, Lithwick’s own post strongly suggests that Ricci also did not seek preferential treatment when he sued a different fire department for disability discrimination years earlier. According to Lithwick, Ricci claimed in that case that the department discriminated by refusing to consider him after he revealed during an interview that he was dyslexic. Asking to be considered for hire notwithstanding a disability is not the same thing as seeking special treatment.

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