Today, the Supreme Court begins hearing the civil rights case involving Entertainment Studios CEO and founder Byron Allen‘s attempt to protect the Civil Rights Act of 1866 from cable giant Comcast.
If the Court’s rules in Comcast’s favor, it could erase equal opportunity protections afforded under the Act and have lasting implications for any Black entrepreneurs (or any entrepreneurs of color) who feel like they are victims of racial bias in business practices.
TheGrio’s Deputy Editor, Natasha Alford, is on the ground in Washington D.C. reporting on the action as it happens.
Byron Allen arrived to the Supreme Court Wednesday morning and spoke with Alford exclusively before oral arguments were set to begin at 10 am.
“This is the 63rd anniversary of (when the Supreme Court said) that African Americans no longer have to sit on the back of the bus,” Allen said. “Here we are, 63 years later, as far as economics, (African Americans) are still on the back of the bus. This (case) is something we have to address to make sure that we have the right to bring forth a lawsuit if we feel that something has happened to us that we feel is unjust.”
Allen continued, reiterating that his battle with Comcast at the Supreme Court is about full economic inclusion for African Americans.
“You have to protect your rights,” Allen said, referencing conversations he once had with with late civil rights icon Coretta Scott King. “It was never about black and white. It was about participating in the great American pie. So now we have to finally achieve that. That’s it. This is nothing more than economics.”
The oral arguments in Allen’s case, known officially as Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African-American Owned Media, will conclude around 11 am. The SCOTUS justices will conference about the case on Friday. The timeline on a final decision is unclear, but could come as late as next spring.
Melissa Murray, a constitutional law expert and Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, recently told theGrio the high stakes of today’s proceedings:
“If Comcast prevails, it will be much harder for victims of race discrimination to sue employers, landlords and other businesses under section 1981 because plaintiffs will be required to prove that racial discrimination was the only factor in any disputed contracting scenario. A decision for Comcast would place additional obstacles in the path of victims of racial discrimination who want the opportunity to be heard in court.”
Comcast has maintained that Allen’s lawsuit is “meritless” and the company is in no way trying to roll back the civil rights of African Americans.
The cable giant has received support from the Justice Department and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which filed amicus briefs back in August.
“It’s wrong,” Allen said, referencing the Trump’s administration’s apparent support of Comcast. “But that’s Donald Trump. We’ll deal with him next November.”
After the oral arguments concluded, Allen exited the courthouse steps to a throng of supporters. The Entertainment Studios CEO thanked his lawyers Erwin Chemerinsky and Louis “Skip” Miller for what he described as an “amazing job.”
A decision is not expected on this case until next spring or end of June at the latest. If the Supreme Court agrees to uphold the 9th Circuit’s ruling, Allen and his legal team will have the ability to obtain documents and other information from Comcast’s decision makers and executives.
In a statement to CNBC, a Comcast spokesperson said the company was “optimistic the Court will reverse the incorrect 9th Circuit decision,” and “bring this case to an end.”
This is a developing story. Check back here periodically for more updates, photos, and video.