EDITORIAL Big step backward

The city of New Haven threw out a fire department promotions exam because it yielded results that did not promote equality.

The city’s decision was in keeping with the need to guarantee the civil rights of all its workers. Local and appeals courts agreed. Now the Supreme Court has taken a big step backward by reversing those rulings.

Detractors of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, whose prior ruling as an appellate judge the high court overturned, are accusing her of wanting to bar people from promotion because of the color of their skin.

The accusations are false.

On July 2, 1964, the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act, prohibited discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion or national origin.

On the Fourth of July, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, standing at the Lincoln Memorial, asserted that, as sweeping as that law was, laws alone are not enough to remedy discrimination. Perhaps better than any others, his words define affirmative action:

“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘Now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair. This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity — not just legal equity but human ability — not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.”

Equality as a fact and as a result is what New Haven tried to achieve.

Equality as a fact and as a result is what Sonia Sotomayor and all those other judges upheld.

But now the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court has, with a 5-4 decision, said “no” to opportunity, “no” to human ability, “no” to equality in fact, and “no” to equality as a result.

On this Fourth of July, Independence Day, the five justices who voted “no” would do well to read the words spoken by President Johnson on July 4, 1965.