The 1964 Civil Rights Act in the 21st Century

Rand Paul's remarks about the 1964 Civil Rights Act brought forth lots of talk about libertarians and lunch counters but almost no discussion of how the Civil Rights Act actually works in the twenty-first century. Yesterday provided a nice reminder.   

I won't comment on Lewis v. City of Chicago directly because it was decided on technical matters (the Supreme Court ruled that black firefighters in Chicago did not miss a deadline to argue that a test disproportionately hurt their chances of employment). The underlying facts, however, are of interest not because they are especially unusual but because they are common.  From Fire Law

The case, Lewis v. Chicago, involved alleged discrimination against African American applicants for the Chicago Fire Department who took a test in 1995.

The department set a passing score of 64 on the exam. Applicants who scored at least 64 but below 89 were informed that they passed the test, but would probably not be hired given the number of candidates who scored 89 or above. [26,000 applied and there were only a few hundred jobs, AT]  Applicants scoring 89 and above were classified as “well qualified”.

The majority of “well-qualified” applicants were white. Only 11 percent were black… 

The trial court sided with the black applicants, and ordered the city to hire 132 randomly selected African American applicants who scored above 64. The court also ordered the city to divide backpay owed among the rest of the black applicants.

White, Asian and Hispanic applicants who also scored above 64 but below the 89 standard were not offered employment or backpay.

Perhaps you are wondering about the tests?  You would be hard pressed to find any obvious racial bias.  I haven't found the Chicago test online but you can find similar tests from New York (also the subject of lawsuits) here.  Here is a sample questions from New York.

Nowadays the Chicago fire department simply gives everyone an easy test and then they hire randomly.


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