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Allen v. Comcast: Black contracts in the balance

U.S. Supreme Court debates case

Lisa Fitch Editor | 11/21/2019, midnight
The 2015 lawsuit filed by businessman Byron Allen against..

A recent You Tube video of a “Breakfast Club” radio interview with Allen has been viewed more than a million times at this writing and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have signed a letter of Amici Curiae, a brief offering information to the court. The NAACP is also standing behind Allen.

“Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider, is urging the Supreme court to roll back vital protections in one of the country’s longest-standing civil rights laws,” states a post on the NAACP site. “Black workers and businesses are already burdened by the intentional discrimination in their day-to-day lives; weakening one of the primary vehicles for challenging that discrimination is simply unconscionable.”

Many believe the outcome of the Supreme Court decision could have a negative impact on the Black community, imperiling the 1866 law prohibiting racial discrimination in contracts.

“This statute was passed immediately after the Civil War as part of a broader effort to ensure that the newly freed slaves enjoyed the same rights as other citizens,” according to the Amici Curiae submitted by the CBC. “Critical to that effort was Section 1981’s guarantee that all persons have an equal right to make and enforce contracts without regard to race.”

The Trump Administration has also stepped in on the case. The Department of Justice has filed a brief that says they want Allen to prove that race was the singular, sole motivating factor in his claim.

In response, the CBC released a statement:

“The Trump Administration has aggressively worked to dismantle policies meant to root out discrimination,” said Gabrielle Brow, communications director for the CBC. “Our caucus is committed to continuing aggressive oversight of the Administration to mitigate the impacts of his dangerous and out of touch policies, which include opening the door to discrimination in contracts.”

Additionally, several members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, including some members of the CBC, filled as Amici Curiae in September, supporting Allen.

“For nearly 50 years, the CBC has been committed to using the full constitutional power, statutory authority and financial resources of the federal government to ensure that African-Americans and other marginalized communities in the United States have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” it reads. “This commitment includes expanding access to capital, contracts and counseling for minority-owned businesses.”

The CBC brief, which contends that the judgment of the Ninth Circuit should be affirmed, was signed by several members of Congress, including Californians Sen. Kamala Harris; Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) ; and Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13).

“What Comcast is seeking to do is make it more difficult to prove a claim of discrimination by petitioning the Supreme Court to reinterpret the application of Section 1981,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson in a recent tweet.

Additionally, the NAACP hosted a telephone conference town hall with Johnson, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Bradford M. Berry, NAACP General Council.

“I still find it just so egregious that this is equivalent to an attack on one of our most durable and oldest civil rights laws,” said Booker.