Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—May 3

H. Lee Sarokin

1984—Federal district judge H. Lee Sarokin modifies a consent decree to require that layoffs of New Jersey firefighters be on a proportional quota basis rather than (as state law provided) according to seniority. The result is that white firefighters with more seniority are to be laid off in favor of minority firefighters with less seniority.

In an especially bizarre twist, Sarokin rules that his own order constitutes a compensable taking of the property (seniority rights) of white firefighters, and he orders the federal government, which opposed his order, to provide compensation for his taking! Sarokin expresses sympathy for the white firefighters, stating that they are “not themselves the perpetrators of the wrongs inflicted upon minorities over the years [but] are being singled out to suffer the consequences.”

In June 1984, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Firefighters v. Stotts forces Sarokin to change his order and to have seniority govern layoffs, Sarokin will change his tone and attack the white firefighters: “If they have not directly caused the discrimination to occur, many have certainly condoned it by their acquiescence, their indifference, their attitudes and prejudices, and even their humor.”

2019—In a 300-page opinion (in Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute v. Householder), a three-judge district court rules that Ohio’s congressional districting map is an unconstitutional “partisan gerrymander.” In a particularly bizarre move, the court gives the Ohio legislature barely a month to enact a new map. The court’s rushed deadline is some two weeks before the end of the Supreme Court’s term, in which important redistricting cases are pending.

Three weeks later, the Supreme Court, without recorded dissent, will grant Ohio’s application for a stay of the district-court ruling. At the end of June, the Court will nullify the ruling, as it holds in Rucho v. Common Cause that claims of partisan gerrymandering are nonjusticiable.


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