Various civil rights organizations criticize Comcast move in discrimination case

Civil rights leaders are focusing on the possible outcome of a Supreme Court case that could change the language of a 153-year-old civil rights statue

Civil rights organization leaders are becoming vocal on the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case between Comcast Corp. and Byron Allen, CEO and founder of theGrio’s parent company, Entertainment Studios.

“There’s a whole lot at stake in this case. It’s much bigger than Comcast and Allen,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told The Washington Post on Thursday. 

The case is between Entertainment Studios and media giants, Comcast along with Charter Communications. The case brings into question the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which addresses contracting with minority businesses, and whether or not the language within the law should be made more narrow. The largest concern, civil rights advocates say, is that a shift in the language put African American business owners in a position where they would have to prove that racial discrimination is the singular factor in contract disputes.

“This is about real victims of discrimination who should not face additional hurdles in getting the opportunity to be heard in court,” Clarke continues. “The implications for African Americans and other marginalized communities of color are grave.”

Earlier this week, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a brief that put a spotlight on concerns that many civil rights organizations are worried about. While the brief urged Comcast to retreat from the case, the group did not speficically align itself with Allen. The Lawyer’s Committee did the same. Counting these two organizations, over two dozen signatories have joined the chorus, The Post reports.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Section 1981) was set up after slavery to “safeguard equal opportunities for Americans to work, bank, shop, rent or buy a home and become entrepreneurs without racial discrimination.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP LDF believes that to move from this hallmark legislation would be detrimental to Black and Brown people. She stated “An adverse ruling could make our oldest civil rights statute virtually impotent in all but a narrow sliver of cases.”

Comcast denies that its decision not to work with Allen is based on race. The company’s spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said that Entertainment Studios does not have strong enough properties, and drew attention to the fact that the cable giant already carry two Black-owned channels, Revolt, launched by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and Aspire, which is owned by Magic Johnson.

The Entertainment Studios case against Comcast and Charter Communications is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court beginning in November.