By Frederick H. Lowe
The U.S. Supreme Court indicated yesterday that a $20 billion lawsuit filed against Comcast Corporation, the nation’s largest cable operator, by black-owned Entertainment Studio Networks (ESN) could proceed.
The decision was outlined in a more than 70-page ruling. A final ruling is expected sometime in June. The U.S. Justice Department under President Donald Trump is opposed to the lawsuit.
The legal battle in the nation’s highest court that could affect Section 1981, the nation’s oldest civil rights law, in addition to exposing how some prominent African Americans, claiming they work for the masses, actually take corporate money to work for whites, excluding other blacks.
The case titled Comcast Corporation versus National Association of African American Owned Media and ESN concerns Comcast refusing to carry programming by ESN. Businessman Byron Allen owns ESN, which is based in Los Angeles, charged that Comcast made its decision not carry programming from ESN based on racism. Comcast broadcasts the Africa Channel, which broadcasts to more than 7 million homes in the Caribbean and the U.S. It recently expanded to Canada with a subscription streaming service.
District courts rejected ESN’s arguments three times but on August 19, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court decisions.
Miguel Estrada, a Justice Department attorney, told the Justices that the Ninth Circuit Court decision should be overturned.
Allen and ESN charged that Comcast joined in a racist conspiracy with the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, civil rights groups and leaders to disadvantage wholly African American-owned networks in violation of Section 1981 of the U.S. Code under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a Reconstruction Era Law. The law declared African Americans were citizens entitled to a series of civil rights previously reserved for white men only.
Section 1981, which is named because of its location in the U.S. Code, prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in the making or enforcement of employment contracts. The law applies to all private employers, unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which only applies to employers with 15 or more workers.
“What Comcast is seeking to do is make it more difficult to prove a claim of discrimination by petitioning the Supreme Court to reinterpret the application of Section 1981,” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, said during an emergency townhall call in which Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., California) participated. Booker and Harris are seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
Early on in ESN’s lawsuit, the company charged that the NAACP, joined other black organizations that conspired Allen’s business.
Comcast, which is based in Philadelphia, owns NBC-Universal and MSNBC. One of MSNBC’s star hosts is Rev. Al Sharpton. In its lawsuit, the ESN charged that MSNBC paid off Sharpton to buy his silence by giving him a television program to show that Comcast supported diversity.
The lawsuit, filed in 2015, accuses Sharpton and other civil rights figures of conspiring with Comcast to “whitewash Comcast’s discriminatory business practices” by supporting the company’s 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal, among other allegations.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other organizations including the ACLU, have filed Friend of the Court Briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of ESN.