There has always been tension between the three branches of government — the executive, legislative and judicial —in our democratic republic. In fact, our system was consciously designed that way, with the give and take between the three meant to ensure that none gains too much power.
But sometimes one does anyway, and it’s often the judiciary, because that branch plays the role of arbiter, deciding what’s legal and what’s not, what’s constitutional and what’s not, and resolving conflicts between the other two branches.
That is what’s now happened to the city government in the legal dispute over hiring of firefighters and alleged racism in the FDNY. Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis is convinced the department is inherently racist and blames Mayor Bloomberg for not doing more to address the problems he sees. So he’s essentially appointed himself King of the FDNY — the very kind of action our tripartite system was designed to prevent.
The Fire Department — which happens to be the best in the world, by the way — is more than 90 percent white and male. Yes, that’s a problem in a city that also happens to be the most diverse in the world. But it doesn’t mean, as Garaufis says, that the city is guilty of a “pattern and practice of discrimination against black firefighter candidates.”
Garaufis believes this to be true largely because minority candidates have been less successful than whites when taking the Fire Department test. Under his reading of the law, the results alone are a violation of minority applicants’ civil rights. So he’s thrown the last two test results out the window and is supervising the creation of a new exam.
More recently, he’s determined that a special monitor is needed to oversee the department’s entire hiring process for at least the next 10 years. His ruling ordering the appointment of the monitor will be the subject of a hearing today, Oct. 20. The order is supported by the U.S. Justice Department and the Vulcan Society, a group representing black firefighters, who jointly brought the lawsuit on which Garaufis has been ruling.
The city, the defendant, “objects to the scope of the monitor’s duties,” saying in court papers that the appointee will essentially be in charge of several Fire Department offices.
We agree. The way to recruit more minority firefighters is just that — to recruit them, which the city has been doing. The order issued by Garaufis, who has previously threatened to impose outright hiring quotas, adds unnecessary red tape to the city’s already cumbersome bureaucracy. It also tilts the balance of power too far from the officials we elected to run this city.