"This case presents an unfortunate situation, one New Haven might well have avoided had it used a better selection process in the first place," she wrote. "But what this case does not present is race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII. Congress endeavored to promote equal opportunity in fact, and not simply in form. The damage today's decision does to that objective is untold."
On the steps of New Haven's city hall this afternoon, firefighter Frank Ricci told reporters he was "overwhelmed" by the high court's decision that took nearly six years to come.
"This ruling is a vindication for all New Haven 20 and the rest of the country," said Ricci. "We thought the law was pretty clear, we thought the facts and the evidence was clear … We're very pleased that the court agreed with us."
Matthew Marcarelli, who had qualified as captain before the test results were thrown out, said the "truest vindication" will be the day he and the other 19 white and Hispanic firefighters get the captain and lieutenant badges they deserve.
"The truest vindication is the day that we all get pinned our badges on ... It was worth it. Every minute of it. Right guys?" said Marcarelli to boisterous applause and cheers.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who was a key supporter of scrapping the test results, reacted to the ruling in a press conference today.
"The Supreme Court is not bound by precedent in its interpretations of anti-discrimination law and have for some time been showing increasing distance from reasonable and time tested efforts in the pursuit of remedying discrimination," said the mayor. "That said, we here clearly have the obligation to follow it and we will."
While the firefighters were rejoiced by this morning's ruling, a chorus of voices in Washington began to rumble.
In a particularly strongly worded written statement, Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the Supreme Court decision, contrasted with Sotomayor's ruling of the case on the lower court, underscored his "concern that she may have allowed her personal or political agenda to cloud her judgment and affect her ruling."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that today's decision interprets Title VII in a way "never intended by Congress" and could have a negative impact on protections for families.
"Today's narrow decision is likely to result in cutbacks on important protections for American families," Leahy said. "It is less likely now that employers will conscientiously try to fulfill their obligations under this time-honored civil rights law. This is a cramped decision that threatens to erode these protections and to harm the efforts of state and local governments that want to build the most qualified workforces."
Republican Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah, a member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed with the high court's decision and made sure to point out Sotomayor's involvement in the initial ruling.