As arguments begin, civil rights leaders urge Supreme Court to uphold one of the nation’s oldest anti-discrimination statutes

NNPA Newswire | 11/13/2019, 7:57 a.m.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments that pit Comcast (CMCSA), America’s biggest cable provider, against National Association of ...

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments that pit Comcast (CMCSA), America’s biggest cable provider, against National Association of African American-Owned Media and Entertainment Studios Networks, Inc., and more importantly one of the Nation’s oldest anti-discimination statutes, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Section 1981 prohibits intentional race discrimination in contracting, and protects African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities from discrimination in the workplace and marketplace. The law applies to all private and public actors and prohibits retaliation. It has been one of the cornerstones of the oldest and most storied pieces of civil rights laws for over 150 years.

Comcast is asking the Supreme Court to rule that intentional race discrimination claims brought under Section 1981 should be dismissed if plaintiffs are unable to show that race was the reason behind a discriminatory action, as opposed to a reason.

Civil rights leaders urge the Supreme Court to affirm the lower court’s ruling that intentional race discrimination claims under Section 1981 are viable if the plaintiff is able to show that race played a role in the challenged discriminatory decisions. A ruling by the Supreme Court requiring plaintiffs to prove that race was the but for reason of a discriminatory decision would make it nearly impossible for litigants to prevail in their cases and would result in meritorious cases being dismissed at the earliest stages of litigation.

Leaders representing the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), NAACP, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, submitted “friend of the court” briefs in the case pending before the Supreme Court, Comcast v. National Association of African American-Owned Media and Entertainment Studios Networks, Inc.

“This is the most important racial justice case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this term,” said Kristen Clarke, president & executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “An adverse ruling by the Court stands to impose a burdensome pleading standard in Section 1981 cases that would shut the courthouse door on victims of discrimination all across the country. Section 1981 is one of the oldest civil rights statutes that provides core protection from groups otherwise beyond the reach of civil rights statutes including independent contractors and gig economy workers. The Court should reject this challenge to help ensure that victims of discrimination get their day in court and have the opportunity to be heard.”

“Section 1981 is one of our nation’s oldest civil rights laws, specifically intended to end racial discrimination in contracting,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Every person, no matter who they are or what their race, should have fair and equitable access to opportunity and economic mobility. The Supreme Court must not weaken the vital protections of this historic civil rights statute.”

“All eyes should be on this critical case,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “An adverse decision by the Supreme Court could imperil the integrity of section 1981 as a tool for protecting the full economic and legal rights of Black people.”