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Atlanta courthouse shootings

The shootings of a judge and four others by an escaped rapist has raised calls for increased courthouse security, a move I applaud. But none of the press is directly talking about a contributing cause to the breach of security. When 33-year-old, 6'1" 210-pound former college football player Brian G. Nichols was unrestrained for purposes of changing out of his jailhouse jumpsuit into civilian clothes for trial, he was being guarded by 5'0" 51-year-old grandmother Deputy Cynthia Hall. (Cameron McWhirter & Steve Visser, "Suspect in Fulton courthouse slayings captured", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar. 12). (I see after I wrote this that Paul Cella has mentioned this at Red State, where he finds this New York Times story noting that District Attorney Paul Howard deflected reporters' questions on this issue. I haven't seen any other press accounts mention this.)

Fulton County, like almost every (if not every) jurisdiction, has watered down its strength requirements for police and firefighters for fear that they would be considered discriminatory towards women because of the disparate impact of those requirements. Once a plaintiff shows that job qualifications have a disparate impact, the burden falls on the employer to prove that the requirements are bona fide and that no other selection mechanisms can be substituted, regardless of discriminatory intent. San Francisco formerly asked fire recruits to carry a 150-pound sack up a flight of stairs and now lets them drag a 40-pound sack across a smooth floor. (Walter Olson, "Disabling America", National Review, May 5, 1997).

There are no doubt strong women capable of being deputies who can guard 210-pound violent criminals. There should be no bar to hiring them. The reduction of standards to achieve equality of result, rather than just equality of opportunity, can lead to tragic consequences. Perhaps, as a society, we value equality so much that we're willing to bear these additional costs (even as elsewhere, manufacturers are hit with punitive damages for daring to measure the additional benefits of the product against the costs of exposing consumers to minuscule amounts of additional risk). But let us at least make this an educated decision.

(Update, Mar. 13: Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution very obliquely addresses this issue, if you carefully read between the lines. Steve Visser, "Judge faults security procedures", Mar. 13).



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.