October 07, 2019

Wyden Files U.S. Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Support of Federal Civil Rights Law

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., last week joined U.S. Sen. Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., and colleagues in filing an amicus brief in a United States Supreme Court case that will determine access to courts for victims of racial discrimination.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Comcast Corporation v. National Association of African American-Owned Media and Entertainment Studios Networks, Inc.  on November 13, 2019. The statute in question—42 U.S.C. Section?1981—was passed immediately after the Civil War as part of a broader effort to ensure that newly freed slaves enjoyed the same rights as other citizens. The amicus brief supports the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of Section 1981 to allow victims of race discrimination to allege that race was a motivating factor in a defendant’s refusal to enter into a contract, but not necessarily the sole cause of harm.

“[T]he structure and history of Section 1981 confirm that the statute, by design, prohibits any racial discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts, regardless of whether that discrimination is a but-for cause of the parties’ failure to enter into an agreement,” the lawmakers argued.

They continued, “[T]his Court should hold that a person who is denied the right to contract to which she is entitled under Section 1981 need not plead or prove that race was a but-for cause of that denial. To hold otherwise would fundamentally alter the statute that Congress passed in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War ‘to prohibit all racially motivated deprivations of the rights enumerated in the statute.’”

Wyden and Harris are joined on the brief by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., along with U.S. Reps. Karen Bass, D-Calif., Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Donald Payne, Jr., D-N.J., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Va., and Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.

In addition to members of Congress, the following groups joined amicus briefs in support of Section 1981: the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, Anti-Defamation League, National Action Network, the National Urban League, the National Council of Jewish Women and the SEIU.

Access the legislators’ full brief here.