According to the U.S. Supreme Court, several white firefighters were treated unfairly by the city of New Haven, Conn., when it refused to promote them despite their high scores on a promotional exam. In a 5-4 decision handed down on Monday, the court ruled that the city should not have scrapped the test just because black firefighters performed poorly.
That decision, in Ricci v. DeStefano, was eminently reasonable. You don’t change the score after the game is over.
To begin with, New Haven shouldn’t have staked firefighters’ promotions largely on the outcome of a classroom test; there are far better ways to determine leadership skills in a fire department. Many departments test prospective leaders by running simulations of real-life scenarios. After all, giving correct answers on a pencil-and-paper test hardly proves the capacity to lead the rescue of workers trapped in a burning building.
But if New Haven’s fire department unwisely stuck with a classroom test — and