Last week, Slate ran a 5000 word article about the New Haven Fire Department, The Ladder, by senior editor Emily Bazelon and intern Nicole Allan. The article turns into an inadvertent reductio ad absurdum of the Sotomayorian conventional wisdom.
Bazelon’s ultimate objection to New Haven’s discarded 2003 testing process is that it wasn’t subjective and arbitrary enough to promote as many minorities as she’s like. She ends her article with a ringing call for a more random selection method that will produce less knowledgeable fire captains and lieutenants:"The city could come up with a measure for who is qualified for the promotions, rather than who is somehow best. And then it could choose from that pool by lottery."
Bazelon apparently doesn’t know that lotteries are exactly what cities such as Chicago are already doing with the results of firefighter tests, in an attempt to comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s "Four-Fifths Rule". This regulation puts the burden of proof in discrimination cases on employers when blacks aren’t hired or promoted at least 80 percent as often as whites. ...
In 2006, the new Chicago hiring test passed all but the bottom 15 percent of the folks who walked in off the street wanting jobs as firefighters. And then, just as Bazelon recommends for New Haven, the Chicago city government picked "randomly" from the top 85 percent—the crème de la crème of the Disparate Impact Age.
Why did Chicago have to go so low? ...
Not until you cut the IQ minimum down to 74 would the EEOC be truly happy: 77 percent of blacks and 96 percent of whites pass. Exactly Four-Fifths!
But, seriously, what’s the point of even giving a test so easy that 96 percent of white people can pass? White people aren’t so smart that somebody at the 5th percentile of the white bell curve is going to make an adequate firefighter.
Bazelon’s lotteries are an incredibly stupid idea because cities end up hiring incredibly stupid people of all races. ...
Bazelon is much exercised by the racial injustice inherent in white firefighters knowing more about how to do their jobs. She says:"Is this the best way to choose the leaders of a municipal fire department—the best memorizers win?"
Worse, the white firemen are unjustly learning more about fire fighting because they care more about fighting fires. Bazelon continues:"As one Hispanic quoted anonymously by the New Haven Independent put it, the test favored ‘fire buffs’—guys who read fire-suppression manuals on their downtime …"
The white firemen also are advantaged, Bazelon says, because they tend"… to come from families in which firefighting is a legacy. … Frank Ricci has an uncle and two brothers who are firefighters. He studied fire science at college."
I looked up "Emily Bazelon" on Wikipedia (accessed 16.59 ET, June 28 2009) and discovered that while she’s very bright, she’s not exactly the most self-aware person. When read in light of her biography, her Slate article about privileged white firemen becomes an amusing epitome of unthinking Gown v. Town prejudice in New Haven.
Wikipedia tells us:"[Bazelon] graduated from Yale College in 1993 and from Yale Law School in 2000. ... Bazelon is a Senior Research Scholar in Law and Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School."
You might think that Bazelon would be better qualified to offer advice on admissions and promotions to the LSAT-obsessed Yale Law School rather than to the New Haven Fire Department. By Bazelon’s logic, Yale Law School should hire by lottery. Perhaps—just to get the ball rolling—she could publicly offer to give up her position at Yale Law School to some randomly chosen person?
Moreover, this legal writer’s concern about the advantages Frank Ricci garnered by being related to firemen seems a little ironic in light of this Wikipedia line:"She is the granddaughter of Judge David L. Bazelon and cousin of feminist Betty Friedan."
This legal journalist’s grandfather, David Bazelon, was the most powerful judge in America not on the Supreme Court when he served from 1962-1978 as Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Needless to say, I’m not implying that Emily Bazelon’s career as a writer on legal affairs has depended upon nepotism.
Rather, I’m pointing out that a family developing and passing on expertise in a particular field—whether the Riccis in firefighting or the Bazelons-Friedans in law and punditry—is a good thing for society in general, because expertise is always in short supply.
Now tell me: why should we have one standard of fairness for Frank Ricci and another for Emily Bazelon?
Read the whole thing here.