On November 13, 2019, Byron Allen, comedian, and media mogul, will go before the United States Supreme Court in a $20 Billion fight against some of the largest corporations in the entertainment industry. Backed by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, the Entertainment Studios CEO and owner of The Weather Channel will take on Comcast and Charter Communications for their refusal to distribute his networks. Byron Allen asserts that the refusal by the entities is race-based discrimination and is in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. A loss could potentially set an adverse precedent for others to seek legal remedy for their claims of discrimination.
The 39th United States Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1866 Section 1981 April 9, 1866. The Act stated that all persons born in the United States were entitled to be citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude. It was the first United States Law to define citizenship and affirm equal protection under the law for all citizens. As citizens they have the right to enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property. All rights previously denied to them during slavery. Senator Lynman Trumbull sponsored the bill; Congress passed it with a clear majority of 122 to 41 supporting the Act. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill twice, stating in part “I cannot approve consistently with my sense of duty to the whole people”, by “whole people” he was referring to the White majority.
Byron Allen, CEO of Entertainment Studios (parent company of The Weather Channel) recently sued Comcast in a 20 Billion dollar civil rights lawsuit. Allen’s suit in the 9th Circuit court using the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to attack Comcast disproportionate funding of Black networks. According to Allen, “The industry spends billions a year licensing cable networks… while African American owned media gets zero, and that’s not fair”. The 9th Circuit Court upheld Allen’s appeal twice. November 13th of this year 2019, Comcast will present its case in front of the United States Supreme Court in an effort to dismantle this historic Civil Rights Legislation.
Comcast in its efforts to undermine the Reconstruction era protections against racial discrimination has appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Their argument is seeking to interpret the law in such a way that it can only be used if racial discrimination is 100% of the reason a business is being discriminatory. If only 1% of the discrimination is perceived to be from a non-racial standpoint, the business will not be held accountable for “mostly” racist practices. The Department of Justice under the Trump Administration filed an amicus brief on behalf of Comcast in an attempt to weaken a key protection against racial discrimination. Amicus briefs are legal documents filed in appellate court cases by non-litigants with a strong interest in the subject. The briefs advise the court of relevant, additional information or arguments the court may wish to consider. One of the most disturbing aspects of this case for me personally is the fact that; In 1866 the Andrew Johnson Administration was opposed to this very Civil Rights Act as well as the Trump Administration in 2019. An Act to level the playing field, to ensure all citizens are afforded the rights to equal protection under the law, and yet then as now they stand legally opposed.
Several Civil Rights organizations have voiced support in the form of Amicus briefs including the National Urban League, NAACP, Color of Change and the National Association of Black Journalists. It should be noted that only seven members of the more than 40 Congressional Black Caucus signed the Amicus brief supporting Mr. Allen.
Effects of an Adverse Ruling
A ruling in Comcast favor would make it extremely difficult for victims of discrimination to sue Landlords, employers and businesses according to Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; it could force victims to prove that racial discrimination was the only factor in any disputed contracting decision. This case is monumental, it is much larger than merely Comcast and Allen, This case is about ordinary victims of discrimination facing additional obstacles and being afforded the opportunity to be heard in court. The ramifications for African Americans as well as other marginal communities are grave.
We must tell our own stories!
The Lion has learned to write!