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Tilting at Windmills

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July 12, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Stop It

From McClatchy:

"Supporters of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor are quietly targeting the Connecticut firefighter who's at the center of Sotomayor's most controversial ruling.

On the eve of Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearing, her advocates have been urging journalists to scrutinize what one called the "troubled and litigious work history" of firefighter Frank Ricci."

The only "advocate" named in the article is People for the American Way. Whoever these advocates are, though, I have a message for them:


Really. Just stop.

First, it's wrong. Apparently, Frank Ricci has filed a number of lawsuits in his career. So what? Is that in any way relevant to Judge Sotomayor's confirmation? No. If it turned out that Frank Ricci was the Antichrist, would that mean that she was necessarily right to rule against him? No; no more than his being the Archangel Gabriel would mean that she ought to have ruled in his favor.

If his past has no relevance to her confirmation, there is no reason whatsoever to bring it up. And if there's no reason to bring it up, then bringing it up is just gratuitous trashing.

Second, it's stupid. Judge Sotomayor has perfectly good credentials. She doesn't need this. It's pointless ugliness.

So just stop.

Hilzoy 2:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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Disagree. If he is an a**hole then that is relevant to the lack of relevance of his testimony.

Posted by: elliottg on July 12, 2009 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK
Judge Sotomayor has perfectly good credentials. She doesn't need this. It's pointless ugliness.

Doesn't matter to these people. It's all about hate and any opportunity to vent that hate.

The only consoling part of this whole thing is the almost certainty that Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

I wish though, as obviously you do, that it could have taken place without the hatefest.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on July 12, 2009 at 2:31 AM | PERMALINK

The firefighter has no business being involved in the nomination in the first place. It is the Republican side that has condemned empathy, yet they are dragging this guy in front of the public for no other reason than to create the same kind of emotional response they condemn.

Posted by: Joe Buck on July 12, 2009 at 2:38 AM | PERMALINK

Her big mistake in that case was apparently in following the law as it existed at the time her panel ruled. If only she had been a judicial activist of the (far) right kind, no one would be raising a stink about her nomination!

Posted by: Crabgrass on July 12, 2009 at 2:53 AM | PERMALINK

You fight fire with fire.

A firefighter like Ricci should appreciate that.

Posted by: Disputo on July 12, 2009 at 2:59 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry but I think this is perfectly relevant. The only reason the GOP is bringing this guy front and center is to play to white resentment and stir up racial animosity against Sotomayor, to present the fellow as the undeserving victim of supposed reverse racism. If he's a serial lawsuit filer who always files suit when he doesn't get his way, that's pretty darn relevant.

And to be honest, it looks like that's exactly what he is. That first lawsuit he filed was obviously settled just to get out from under a nuisance. The idea that he could only have not been hired because he was dylexic, rather than the rather more logical notion that he wasn't hired because NINETY-FIVE PERCENT of the applicants weren't hired - please.

Posted by: JoyceH on July 12, 2009 at 3:19 AM | PERMALINK

In a perfect world, you are perfectly right, Hilzoy. But it's not a perfect world, is it? It's an ugly one where our opponents misrepresent us and hurl unfair accusations. This is political war and we need to use Sherman's tactics. You can play nice all you want, but you will lose. You don't win wars by throwing pillows. If he wants to play this game, than he should expect ruthless tactics. He's obviously a very easy target, so take him out. Why allow the Republicans even a slight chance? If the Republicans think we're weak, they will give us a lot of trouble. Crush them early and often. Eventually, they might give in.

Posted by: fostert on July 12, 2009 at 3:21 AM | PERMALINK

All I will say at this time is, if the latinos and the immigrants (legal and illegal) stage another protest, things will shut down!

Posted by: annjell on July 12, 2009 at 3:23 AM | PERMALINK


I will repeat what my mum use to say,
"Be careful on the toes you step on, it may be connected to the Ass you have to kiss."

Posted by: annjell on July 12, 2009 at 3:27 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, this is a tactic that could easily backfire on the GOP. Most people go through their entire lives without ever filing a lawsuit. A few people have some major event that causes them to file one. But a person who files multiple lawsuits, that's a person with a lot of anger and resentment. How sure are they that they can control what this fellow says? They've made him their anti-Sotomayor poster boy, so if he goes off half-cocked, that will reflect on them.

Posted by: JoyceH on July 12, 2009 at 3:34 AM | PERMALINK

This would only be relevant / fighting-fire-with-fire / potentially bad for the GOP if the media responded to tips from the left the same way they respond to tips from the right, which they don't. So rather than focusing on Ricci's history of lawsuits, the meme that emerges will be about how liberal activist groups are trying to smear this firefighter. I don't see how this works well for Sotomayor.

Posted by: Neal on July 12, 2009 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

There is nothing to be gained by making Mr. Ricci a bigger media star by attacking him.

The tactic of bringing a disappointed litigant to testify to confirmation hearings absolutely must be attacked. What the Republicans are doing is out of line. The Democrats ought to expose it, revile it in public and make the Republicans explain over and over and over and over.

Say it in simple, direct language: Other than to attempt to aggravate racial animosity, there is no reason to bring this guy to testify. Say it on every talk show. Use it to illustrate that the Republicans have nothing to say of any value. In fact, say just that: The Republicans have nothing to say of any value, so they brought this guy in an attempt to aggravate racial animosity.

I know I am dreaming, but this little stunt could be thrown right back in the Republicans faces.

Posted by: James E. Powell on July 12, 2009 at 4:31 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans tend to find/create simple symbols for their simple minded base. They don't bother to do much research into the facts before trotting out their latest "star".

"Joe" the "Plumber" was an example. Not only was he not Joe and not a plumber, he was intellectually unfit for the role thrust upon him.

Not unlike a certain governor of recent memory. . .

Posted by: DAY on July 12, 2009 at 5:43 AM | PERMALINK

I don't get it.
The Republicans are doing something vile and unprecedented (not to mention irrelevant) by having this Ricci guy testify at her hearings, and you think it's disgusting for Democrats to highlight his cupidity?


Posted by: jprichva on July 12, 2009 at 5:44 AM | PERMALINK

I couldn't disagree more. This sort of tactic by the Republicans must not go unanswered. Mr. Ricci is an adult, and a litigious one at that. If he can't take the heat, well... then he shouldn't be a fireman.

Posted by: buddhistMonkey on July 12, 2009 at 6:33 AM | PERMALINK

Wow. This is a very sad thread. So, the politics of mean and nasty has gone so far now that a majority of this blog now say basically that "since the GOP has no morals, we don't need them either."

Wrong. James E has it right. You object to the GOP tactic and point out why it is wrong. You do not employ the same tactic back. Ricci is not the point, the GOP is.

Posted by: JohnN on July 12, 2009 at 6:47 AM | PERMALINK

I don't get how bringing up the facts of the case, i.e. Mr. Ricci likes him some lawsuits, is being as 'bad' as the GOP? How is this the same tactic? It will make Mr. Ricci and his GOP handlers sad, but that doesn't mean that its bad.

Posted by: DougMN on July 12, 2009 at 7:10 AM | PERMALINK

Read the Lithwick column in Slate. Democrats don't have to malign him, and it doesn't sound like they are. Dems just have to present the facts -- Ricci has used litigation or the threat of litigation to secure employment throughout his career as a firefighter. In fact, he brought an EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION suit so that he could get his first job. It's not trashing the guy to point out that while he is demanding empathy from Sotomayor as a discriminated against citizen, he has previously benefited from being on the other end of a discrimination lawsuit.

Posted by: Ash on July 12, 2009 at 7:34 AM | PERMALINK

The court case overturned a major part of anti-discrimination law as Congress intended to enact it. The fact that Ricci is not what his supporters claimed him to be is entirely relevant.

And the fact that the SCOTUS overturned the will of congress just to score points in the confirmation battle shows why it is so necessary to put genuine liberals on the court.

Posted by: PHB on July 12, 2009 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

No one is 'targeting' the other firefighter who is testifying. Ricci just has a paper trail that makes him look like a hypocrite.

The only thing wrong with pointing this out is that it plays into the hands of the Republicans who want to cast Ricci in the light of a victim.

Posted by: Blue Neponset on July 12, 2009 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

Not going after Ricci is like taking a knife to a gunfight.

Posted by: estamm on July 12, 2009 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

When Ricci agreed to appear as a witness against Sotomayor, he made himself and his background a legitimate subject. There's no reason for the Sotomayor side to approach this battle with one hand tied behind their backs.

The Republican side knows Sotomayor will be confirmed. Bringing out Ricci is intended to win them political points, not to add to a high-minded inquiry. It's both appropriate and desireable to prevent them from scoring those points. That should be a no-brainer.

Posted by: jimBOB on July 12, 2009 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

If a judge rules against a guy hit by a car it's fair game to question the reasons for her decision.

If the victim shows up in court to try and discredit her for a future promotion purely for political gain, then it's fair game to point out he was an ambulance chaser.

Posted by: trex on July 12, 2009 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

What problem could there be in exploring Ricci's background (especially as he relates to previous lawsuits) when you know Sessions and his ilk will already present him as a PALINLIKE victim...it's what they do...and the hyprocisy and projection they employ works for them everytime because our media SUCKS!!!

Posted by: Dancer on July 12, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

The attacks on Ricci are no more relevant than he being there.

Posted by: Raoul on July 12, 2009 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

It's tough to buck Hilzoy, but this is one of those rare instances. The commenters above have nailed it quite well. Democrats are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Yes, it is a losing proposition either way.

However, to sit back and do nothing is the greater "evil". How does that old Burke quote go? All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Yes, the GOP as currently constituted is evil. It's not the party of Lincoln or Eisenhower (Note Susan Eisenhower's endorsement of Obama), but rather the party of Nixon, Bush and Cheney and their conspiratorial minions who shredded the Constitution and spent this country into virtual bankruptcy for the past eight years.

This is a group with whom you do not make nice as Natalie Maines so aptly put it.

Even President Obama has figured out that he was just a bit more than naive when he thought that he could get the GOPers to work together for the good of the country. They are looking out for the good of their masters, period. The rich, elite are calling the GOP shots and their dim-witted servants out-do themselves in pandering for profit.

No, Hilzoy, hit them hard on this and on every other issue or Democrats will be seen as being weak and unfit to govern. And, I'm not so sure that the perception wouldn't be accurate.

Posted by: calvinthecat on July 12, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

He's Joe the Plumber's replacement. This is only the product roll-out.

By the fall he'll be doing talk-shows and greet-and-grins for Congressional candidates.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 12, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry Hilzoy on this one you are dead wrong.

It is not just that Ricci got his first job explicitly via a discrimination law suit it is that he pursued actual and threatened law suits over the course of his career making sure at every step of the way to get suitable coverage in the Hartford Courant.

Dahlia Lithwick explains: http://www.slate.com/id/2222087/
Fire Proof:The New Haven firefighter is no stranger to employment disputes.

This guy has a career of being a professional victim with a habit of whining to the newspaper everyti me something doesn't go his way and in doing so making public threats.

According to a Hartford Courant report of Aug. 11, 1998, Ricci was dismissed from the Middletown fire department after only eight months. He promptly appealed his dismissal, claiming that fire officials had retaliated against him for conducting an investigation into the department's response to a controversial fire. A story in the Hartford Courant dated Aug. 9, 1997, has Ricci vowing "to pursue this to the fullest extent of the law." In August of 1998, a state Department of Labor investigation cleared Chief Wayne S. Bartolotta of any wrongdoing in the firing. The Aug. 3, 1998, letter from the state Department of Labor indicated that the case was closed with a finding of no violation. "After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the South Fire District did not discriminate against Mr. Ricci." Ricci's response? According to the Courant, Ricci contended "Their decision was political, it has nothing to do with who was right and who was wrong." He told the paper he would "pursue the matter in civil court."
I don't have any respect for a guy who takes every reversal during the normal process and goes crying it "was political". Why of all the firefighters allegedly discriminated against was it Ricci who came to the front? You think maybe because the local reporters have his number on speeddial? Posted by: Bruce Webb on July 12, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Absolutely right on. Not only would going after Mr. Ricci be wrong it would be massively politically counterproductive. Luckily no one in their political right mind would do such a thing - and I think that applies to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At least I hope so.

Posted by: Amy on July 12, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

What's wrong with urging journalists to scrutinize Ricci's work history? If Republicans want to make him the story, let's hear the other side of that story. I wouldn't be surprised that if enough of his background becomes known, the nutballs will realize he's damaged goods and drop him from the hearings. Nobody likes the dick who's always filing lawsuits.

Posted by: jrw on July 12, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

"Second, it's stupid. Judge Sotomayor has perfectly good credentials. She doesn't need this. It's pointless ugliness.

So just stop."


Now, if only the Repugs could learn this lesson!

Posted by: barkleyg on July 12, 2009 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Again with the pearl clutching concern-troll Dem.

Ricci is a big boy Hilzoy, and challenging his cred is expected by everyone. Not one ounce of benefit comes by ignoring this individual's past. Your post is a great example of why I am not a Democrat despite voting with them 95% of the time.

If you want the two-party system then play the game. Individuals need to know that if they step to the plate high hard ones are coming. No one deserves the ability to sling BS w/o challenge/repurcussions. This isn't just about Soto. it's about the next, and the next justices, and the need for Dems to actually FIGHT. After all I'm told Dems are a bunch of fighters. That's what I'm told, but I have yet to witness such a thing. (DADT is still on the books??)

I can think of no better image to hang around Republican necks than a whiny white-guy who is crying because the poorest and most disadvantaged of our society took a job from him. Since when does the best person get the job in damn near any field? Employment just doesn't work that way.

And if the Dems highlight this guy's past ridiculous court actions, doesn't that strike right at the heart of Republican court criticism -- that people waste the court's time on personal vendettas and slap lawsuits? It's the perfect fork waiting for a flailing regular-guy Republican to happily impale themselves on. Soto. has the right to have this guy's credibility tested, and quite frankly the public really doesn't mind such a thing. Relax the grip on your pearls, everything will be OK.

The concern troll comments above are so lacking in specifics, you have to wonder whether they are being written by Republicans. "Counterproductive" ? What the h*ll does that even mean? Were the attacks on Anita Hill counter productive for the Republicans? How exactly will exposing Ricci's wingnuttery keep or even inhibit production from occurring?

Some of you Dems really need to get a spine and quit worrying about what people who will never vote for your party think. Let the hearing begin.


Posted by: XtoG on July 12, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Ricci is a WATB, and should be exposed as the fraud he is, just like Joe-the-make-believe-plumber. It's time to expose all the frauds.

Posted by: elbrucce on July 12, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Talk about government waste at the hands of GOP. No one is talking about the fact that this guy will be getting full pay for attending these hearings - it won't be jury-duty pay, but, firefighter pay, whether it be regular pay or overtime pay.

Posted by: annjell on July 12, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

It almost never happens, but I completely disagree with Hilzoy.

Ricci was willing to go public by filing an anti-discrimination lawsuit under the ADA, by filing an anti-whistleblower complaint, and by filing an anti-discrimination lawsuit under Title VII. It is not "dirty" or "Sherman's tactics" to point out what is in the public record about his public complaints. It is legitimate, part of the public record, and part of the sacrifice that every plaintiff has to make when he or she sues.

No one is digging into Ricci's private life or exposing him inappropriately. Ricci put himself forward as a plaintiff, and now as a witness against a judge, and the public has every right to know about his public filings.

Posted by: GS on July 12, 2009 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are the very epitome of pointless ugliness. They have nothing to offer, so they become the bullies in the room. We've all had experience with this kind of individual because we've all known this personality in schools across the nation. They are powerless to lift anyone - even themselves - UP, so they work to drag everyone DOWN. And like the bully in class, they should be heartily mocked and then completely ignored.

Posted by: Limbaugh's Diabetes on July 12, 2009 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy.... The majority of the time, I'd agree with you, except this time. As forstert siad: In a perfect world you'd be correct. Unfortunately we live in a world where conservative republicans do not play by civilized rules.

For a minute I thought you were referring to Republican Politicians when you said:

[...] there is no reason whatsoever to bring it up. And if there's no reason to bring it up, then bringing it up is just gratuitous trashing. Second, it's stupid.[...] She doesn't need this. It's pointless ugliness.

The sad truth is that the above statement pretty much described the current crop of Republican Congress people's behavior.

Posted by: bruno on July 12, 2009 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Ricci the Firefighter = Joe The Plumber in a different incarnation. They'll have another poster boy for their cause next month.

After this one has been ridiculed long enough and has outgrown his usefulness to their cause.

Posted by: bruno on July 12, 2009 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Don't be idiots.

The fundamental defense for Sotomayor is that she was applying the law as it stood. If right-wing activist judges changed the law, that is a problem with them, not Sotomayor. Going after Ricci makes it look as if this really was all about slapping down white men. That's bad optics.

The Senate democrats should treat Ricci with utmost respect. He is a poisoned pawn, and they should refuse this Republican gambit.

Posted by: Adam on July 12, 2009 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP will end up with foot-in-mouth-disease on this one too.

They should try looking at this website:

**No, this is not a racist group website - it is a website where people, white, asian, black, latino, polish, and other cultures are really discussing the hot-topic of race, where did dread-loks originate....and to see how hurtful some of the comments made by people like the GOP has a lasting-impact on the things they say to different ethnic groups.

Posted by: annjell on July 12, 2009 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

Given the over-large number of far right whack jobs one is likely to run across among white firefighters in any fire department (and I personally know enough of them to know this is not anecdotal), Frank Ricci is indeed "fair game."

Hypocrisy, thy name is Republican. From today's Talking Points Memo:

Deserved or not, the biggest political thorn in Sonia Sotomayor's side has been one Frank Ricci of New Haven, CT. Ricci is a firefighter who sued the city claiming reverse discrimination in 2003 after officials there discarded the results of a firefighter's promotion test after the test was revealed to have a disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics.

But flash back, if you will, to January 25, 1995, when, according to the Hartford Courant Ricci was singing the opposite tune: "A decorated firefighter has filed a lawsuit against the city, saying he was not hired because he is dyslexic."

The lawsuit, filed recently in federal court, could shed light on the selection process used by the city, which has been beset with criticism over politics and nepotism.

Frank Ricci charges in the lawsuit that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

Ricci, a Wallingford native who now lives in Maryland, was one of 795 candidates who were interviewed for 40 openings. Ricci told interviewers that he has a learning disability, the lawsuit says.

Fire commissioners have said that although Ricci was qualified, many others also were qualified because they passed the Civil Service examination.

Two years later, that case was resolved. "In a confidential settlement, struck two years later, Mr. Ricci withdrew his lawsuit in exchange for a job with the fire department and $11,143 in attorney's fees."

If you were Frank Ricci, you might say something like, "Frank Ricci got a job and somebody who wasn't dyslexic didn't." Remember, this is the same Frank Ricci who took his reverse discrimination suit all the way to the Supreme Court, where lower court rulings against him--including one by Sotomayor's Second Circuit--were overturned.

Ricci will testify against Sotomayor before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week--this despite the fact that his views on jurisprudence seem to begin and end with the proposition that legal protections against discrimination are great when they work in his favor, and unconscionable when they don't.

Posted by: TCinLA on July 12, 2009 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy's right. As Howard Gossage said, "I always thought you fight fire with water."
Let him talk, and at length. With any luck, he'll do a Queeg, but by all means let him do it himself.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on July 12, 2009 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK
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