RICCI RULING…. The Supreme Court this morning did pretty much what everyone expected it to do, ruling that New Haven, Conn., was wrong to deny promotions to white firefighters in the Ricci case.

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide, potentially limiting the circumstances in which employers can be held liable for decisions when there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against minorities.

The ruling, written by Justice Kennedy, is online here (pdf). The high court breakdown fell along familiar lines — Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito in the majority, with Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer dissenting.

Because of the subject matter, the case has been closely watched, but because the Supreme Court was hearing an appeal of a ruling decided in part by Sonia Sotomayor, the case was of particular political significance.

More soon.

Update: It’s probably safe to assume that Sotomayor’s detractors will characterize today’s ruling as a rebuke of her judgment regarding race and the law. It’s worth noting, then, that this is a very poor argument.

Remember, Sotomayor joined a unanimous appeals court panel in Ricci, and she applied precedent that existed at the time. Four justices on the high court agreed with her conclusion.

Also note, the Supreme Court’s role in the process is different. As Scott Lemieux noted, “[T]he Supreme Court can create new law in way that Circuit Courts can’t.” Besides, if this were the right metric for evaluating an appeals court judge nominated for the high court, Alito and Roberts would have been rejected by the Senate.

For more background on Ricci, consider a couple of very helpful items Hilzoy wrote in May, as well as this discussion on the case from Slate‘s Nicole Allan and Emily Bazelon.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.