Court to Weigh Protection of Non-Citizens
By Joan Biskupic
The Supreme Court said yesterday it would decide whether a statute barring discrimination in private contracts protects people who are not U.S. citizens.
The 1866 statute was originally intended to prohibit racial bias and protect newly freed slaves, but a federal appeals court ruled that it covers discrimination based on alienage as well. The case, initiated by a labor union official who lost his post because he is not a U.S. citizen, will bring into question practices favoring American citizens over foreigners.
Linden D. Anderson, a citizen of Jamaica who is a legal resident and longtime member of Local 17 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners in New York City, was elected the union's business representative in 1992. Because the union constitution said officers must be citizens of the United States or Canada, he was removed from the position two years later when his citizenship status came to light.
Anderson sued under the 1866 law that says "all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States ... shall have the same right in every states ... to make and enforce contracts ... as is enjoyed by white citizens." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit read the original law, combined with 1991 amendments to the statute, as prohibiting discrimination by private parties based on alienage.
Challenging that interpretation, the union said the appeals court "has ushered in a broad national policy prohibiting employers, and all other private contracting parties, from distinguishing between citizens and noncitizens." It said other courts have limited the reach of the law, known as Section 1981 for its place in federal statutes, as limited to racial bias. The case of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners v. Anderson will be heard next fall.
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