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Liberal groups target GOP witness

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By Jesse J. Holland
Associated Press / July 14, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Firefighter Frank Ricci, Republicans’ star witness set to testify about Sonia Sotomayor’s ruling against his reverse discrimination lawsuit, was targeted for criticism yesterday by powerful liberal groups who support her confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans decided last week to make Ricci one of their showcase witnesses Thursday. His lawsuit against the city of New Haven was rejected by a three-judge appeals court panel that included Sotomayor, but two weeks ago the Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, overturned that decision to dismiss the suit.

Ricci challenged the city’s decision to scrap the results of a promotion test because too few minorities scored high enough to qualify.

People for the American Way, a liberal group, noted yesterday that Ricci got his firefighting job in New Haven “by claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects Americans from discrimination over disabilities.’’ Ricci has dyslexia, a learning disability that impairs the ability to read.

“I don’t think Mr. Ricci thought that his being hired was a case of reverse discrimination against those who weren’t disabled,’’ said Marge Baker, the group’s vice president. “But you can’t have it both ways; these laws can’t be good when you use them to protect yourself and bad when they’re used to protect someone else.’’

Karen Torre, Ricci’s lawyer, called the criticism “sickening’’ and said it represents “the worst of gutter politics.’’

Conservatives called the liberal group’s complaints “a smear campaign.’’

“It is beneath both contempt and the dignity that this process demands,’’ Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said during his opening statement at Sotomayor’s hearing.

Republicans on the judiciary panel referenced Ricci’s case several times yesterday and characterized it as an example of what they called Sotomayor’s tendency to favor one race over another. “It seems to me that in Ricci, Judge Sotomayor’s empathy for one group of firefighters turned out to be prejudice against another,’’ said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the committee.

One conservative group, the Judicial Confirmation Network, is trying to rally conservatives behind Ricci.

“Sotomayor’s liberal interest group supporters have launched an attack campaign to intimidate and smear him,’’ the group said in an e-mail to its supporters. “They have chosen the wrong target. People who run into burning buildings to save others do not frighten easily.’’