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Civil Rights Leaders Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Oldest Anti-Discrimination Statutes

Civil Rights Leaders Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Oldest Anti-Discrimination Statutes

by October 2, 2019

WASHINGTON – Civil rights leaders urged the Supreme Court to preserve a civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and ethnicity when making and enforcing contracts. The law applies to all private and public actors and prohibits retaliation. Known as Section 1981, it has been one of the cornerstones of the oldest and most storied pieces of civil rights laws for over 150 years – the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

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, held a press call today to discuss the “friend of the court” briefs they have submitted in the case pending before The Supreme Court, Comcast v. National Association of African American-Owned Media and Entertainment Studios Networks, Inc.

Audio of the call is available here.

“This is the most important civil rights 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.”

“Everyone, no matter who they are or what their race, should have fair and equitable access to opportunity and economic mobility,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Congress enacted Section 1981 with the purpose of ending racial discrimination in contracting.

The Court’s ruling will have major consequences for the future of civil rights, and we urge it to maintain the full force of our federal civil rights laws.”

“The arguments advanced by Comcast could shield a defendant from liability by simply pointing to a race-neutral reason to justify the defendant’s discriminatory decision. That is a dangerous argument. The stakes are high in this case. An adverse ruling by the Supreme Court could make our oldest civil rights statute virtually impotent in all but a narrow sliver of cases. This is an important fight that we willingly enter to protect the civil rights of African Americans and other people of color.” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

“This matter is bigger than one lawsuit — a win for Comcast would reshape modern laws around racial discrimination as we know them,” said Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP. “By rolling back Section 1981, millions of victims of discrimination will have the rules stacked against them, barring any real opportunity for them to prove their claims.  We urge Comcast to cease its attack on a foundational civil rights statute that has stood for more than 150 years – and if necessary, we will fight this case every step of the way.”

Background

The case contends that both Comcast and Charter Communications violated Section 1981 after minority-owned Entertainment Studios attempted have the two cable systems carry its networks and were denied.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and NAACP LDF argue in their briefs that the position taken by Comcast is inconsistent with the plain text of Section 1981, and would frustrate the fundamental purpose of the provision—to place African Americans on equal footing as white citizens in our nation’s economy. Comcast urges the Supreme Court to hold not only that Section 1981 requires “but-for” causation including claiming the existence of non-racial justifications, but most critical is the telecom company’s claim the statute should be dismissed without discovery or trial. If successful, Comcast’s arguments would, in many cases, impose an impossible pleading burden on victims of discrimination and prevent them from vindicating meritorious claims.

The Lawyers’ Committee brief is joined by The Leadership Conference, NAACP and over 20 other organizations and can be read here . The NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund’s brief is joined by YY other organizations and can be read here.

TheLawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 220 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.

Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas by visiting naacp.org 

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