It’s an unfortunate truth about Washington: Those who decide the great issues of the day seldom see the practical results of their legislative or judicial handiwork.

Court decisions almost always involve lofty discussions of constitutional rights, legal theory, and precedent. So it was last year when the Supreme Court upheld the racial discrimination claims filed by 20 white and Hispanic firefighters in Ricci v. Stefano. These firefighters had outscored black firefighters in lieutenant and captain examinations, which prompted the City of New Haven, Conn., to throw out the results and deny them promotions.

The firefighters then waged an expensive, six year fight to get the promotions they had earned, promotions that Judge Sonia Sotomayor did not want to give them. When she sat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, she saw no problem with the blatant racial discrimination practiced by New Haven. Fortunately, the Supreme Court disagreed with her assessment.

On Friday, a story in the New Haven Register showed the practical results of the Supreme Court’s decision in Ricci. Matt Marcarelli, top scorer in the firefighter exam the city wanted to ignore, was sworn in as the new director of training at the Regional Fire Academy. He had already been an adjunct at the Connecticut Training Academy for more than a decade, where he gave instruction on basic firefighting skills as well as more specialized training such as how to deal with hazardous materials.

The fact that a public servant with such qualifications was not only discriminated against because of his race, but had to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to vindicate his rights is really an outrage. Marcarelli is in a profession where lives are at stake. Sub-optimal qualifications and skill can lead to death and injury among the general public, as well among the firefighters themselves.

Yet as Justice Alito made clear in his concurring opinion, the City of New Haven—particularly its mayor, John DeStefano—saw nothing wrong with discriminating against its best firefighters for crass political reasons, and for an ideology that sees nothing wrong with discrimination – as long as the politically correct can select the victims. Sadly, this seemed of little concern to certain members of the U.S. Senate, who in their rush to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, were more than willing to downplay and paper over her approval of the city’s behavior.

Congratulations to Marcarelli and his other fellow firefighters who finally got the promotions they deserved. It’s a shame that they had to wage such a long and costly fight to get New Haven to honor the merit system in its hiring and promotions. Treating employees based on merit should be the norm everywhere. But too often these days it is not the norm, because nonremedial “affirmative action” – which is simply a euphemism for racial discrimination – is deemed acceptable by too many in government and academia.