U.S. Supreme Court Rolls Back Historic Civil Rights Protections In Comcast Ruling

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CONTACT:

Stanley Augustin| [email protected]
Marc Banks | [email protected]
Shin Inouye | [email protected]
Kristen Johnson | kjoh[email protected]

The Court’s Decision Weakens 19th-Century Civil Rights Law, Imposing a Burdensome Pleading Standard on Victims of Discrimination

WASHINGTON – Today the United States Supreme Court instructed a lower court to reconsider its ruling in a discrimination case involving National Association of African American Owned Media (NAAAOM) and Comcast. The decision issued by the Court weakens the reach of Section 1981, a core provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 – a historic statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and ethnicity when making and enforcing contracts – imposing a burdensome pleading standard on victims of discrimination.

 “The Court’s decision imposes a tougher burden of proof that will likely make it more difficult for discrimination victims to invoke the protections of Section 1981 in discrimination cases,” said Kristen Clarke, president & executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “This ruling weakens our nation’s oldest civil rights statute and may shut the courthouse door on some discrimination victims who, at the complaint stage, may simply be without the full range of evidence needed to meet the Court’s heightened standard. That said, the Court has ordered the district court to review its earlier decision to determine whether ESN’S claims satisfy the standard. We will be watching closely to ensure that courts give discrimination victims a fair opportunity to be heard in these cases.”

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a huge step backward in our march toward achieving equal opportunity for all,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO. “It will significantly restrict the ability of discrimination victims to prove their claims under one of our nation’s premier civil rights laws. We will do everything within our power to urge Congress to correct this travesty of justice.”

“In passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Reconstruction Congress recognized that African American people must be placed on an equal footing with white people in their ability to access economic opportunity.  Today, the Supreme Court undermined that important commitment, ruling that a defendant may escape liability even if racial discrimination played a role in its decision, and places instead an additional burden on plaintiffs at the very outset of their litigation,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “We are gratified that the Court did not adopt some of the more extreme arguments advocated by Comcast and the Trump Administration as amicus curiae.  We will be carefully monitoring how this decision is applied in the lower courts to ensure that victims of racial discrimination have a meaningful remedy.”

“The court’s troubling decision has the potential to weaken a historic civil rights statute and diminish an important tool for discrimination victims seeking legal recourse,” 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.  If courts apply today’s decision in a manner that allows discriminatory acts to go unabated, Congress must step in to reverse the decision and safeguard the rights of discrimination victims.”

Background

Section 1981 applies to all private and public actors and prohibits retaliation. The statute 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.

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 filed amicus briefs in the case last fall.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and NAACP LDF argued in their briefs that the position taken by Comcast was 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 urged the Supreme Court to hold that Section 1981 requires a “but-for” causation standard.

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 several other organizations and can be read here.

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About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ 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.

About the NAACP:

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.

About the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

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.

 

About The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human 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.