WASHINGTON — An 1866 Reconstruction era law was put to the test Tuesday when Supreme Court justices wrestled with the standard that television executive Byron Allen must meet to move forward with his discrimination complaint against Comcast Corp.
“[The statute] has been in the books for over 153 years and there has never been any ambiguity about this particular statute until we really tried to use it,” Allen said in an interview with theGrio before entering the court.
In 2015, Allen sued Comcast under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a post-Civil War statute that allowed “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States” to have the same right to uphold contracts “as is enjoyed by white citizens.”
Allen, founder and CEO of Entertainment Studios Networks (parent company of theGrio), maintains that Comcast declined to pick up ESN’s channels solely on the basis of his race. Comcast contends that Allen must demonstrate there were no other reasons behind the corporation’s decision.
The case was rejected three times by the Central District Court of California before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Allen’s claims were plausible. In April, Comcast filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court following the judgement.
“I don’t know why the Ninth Circuit did what it did here and I don’t know why the respondents (Allen) have argued the case the way they did here,” said Justice Samuel Alito, who shared skepticism with justices from both ends of the ideological spectrum on the appeals court’s reasoning.
Attorney Miguel Estrada, representing Comcast, argued that Section 1981 requires “but-for” causation, meaning that race must be proved to be the only reason behind the corporation’s decision to not add ESN’s channels.