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Conservative Activist Uses Civil War-era Law to Challenge US Corporate Diversity

The anti-affirmative action activist behind the successful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to race-conscious college admissions policies is trying to use a Civil War-era law designed to protect formerly enslaved Black people from racial bias to dismantle American corporate diversity programs.

In a trio of lawsuits filed since August, Edward Blum’s American Alliance for Equal Rights organization has challenged grant and fellowship programs designed by a venture capital fund and two law firms to help give Black, Hispanic and other underrepresented minority groups greater career opportunities.

Those lawsuits accuse all three of violating Section 1981 of the 1866 Civil Rights Act, a law enacted after the Civil War that guarantees all people the same right to make and enforce contracts “as is enjoyed by white citizens.”

While the law was adopted with formerly enslaved Black people in mind, courts have interpreted it for decades as protecting white people from racial discrimination as well. Blum’s group relies upon those rulings in seeking a corporate sequel to the June decision, powered by the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority, in favor of another group he founded declaring race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina unlawful.

His strategy faces its first major test on Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash in Atlanta hears arguments in Blum’s lawsuit challenging venture capital firm Fearless Fund’s grant program designed to promote businesses owned by Black women.

With a Saturday deadline approaching for this year’s grant applications, Blum’s group is asking Thrash, an appointee of Democratic former President Bill Clinton, to quickly issue a preliminary injunction barring Fearless Fund from using race-based criteria for the grant program.

“All of our nation’s civil rights laws – including the 1866 Civil Rights Act – enshrine the command that someone’s race and ethnicity must never be used to help or harm them in public and private employment and contracting,” Blum, who is white, told Reuters in an email.

Sarah Hinger, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program, said Blum’s lawsuits pose a threat to efforts to remove barriers to opportunity for people of all races in private sector jobs.

“This is an effort to scare similar employers and investors away from what is in some ways a nascent effort to address inequities,” Hinger added.

Source : Reuters