By Catherine Pugh,
Special to the AFRO

Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Steven Horsford (D-NV-04) held a press conference on July 27 to call attention to the recent attacks on the fundamental rights of Black Americans, which he said are being “eroded.” 

Horsford expressed concern about how gains made over decades by Black Americans are being affected by the recent decisions from the United States Supreme Court and Republican controlled state legislatures.

Currently, there are 28 state legislatures controlled by Republicans, 19 by Democrats and 3 neutral states.

Chairman Horsford pointed out how voting rights and redistricting efforts in Alabama and Louisiana are affecting residents in that part of the country. The Supreme Court has ordered both states to provide for Black representation by re-drawing their maps.  

“Since the 118th Congress was sworn in seven months ago, the Congressional Black Caucus has been fighting for the people,” said Horsford. “We have been fighting to preserve our democracy, fighting to protect voting rights and creating fairer districts; fighting for public safety and police accountability, fighting to protect a woman’s right to choose, fighting against the expulsion of Black elected officials and fighting archaic traditions that block progress.” 

“And of course,” added Horsford, “fighting extremist Republicans and a judiciary who would rather erase us and want to see us less free and with fewer fundamental rights.”

Horsford said the erosion of Black rights is directly tied to the “ideology being driven by recent decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, including the decision on June 29 to strike down affirmative action in college admissions.”

The court, in that decision, declared that “race cannot be a factor in trying to achieve a diverse student body.” 

Justice Clarence Thomas, the only African-American male on the court, stated in his opinion that “racial preferences for one group necessarily harm members of other groups.”  

A fight on every side

“The attacks against Black people and Blackness are coordinated and well-funded and coming from every side and they are about race,” said Horsford, with other Black legislators at his side.

 Congressman Glenn Ivey, representing Prince George’s County (D-MD-04), was in attendance.  

“I think it is important for the Congressional Black Caucus to take the lead on these kind of issues,” Ivey told the AFRO.  

Congressman Glen Ivey’s objective is to protect economic gains by African Americans through programs operated by the Small Business Administration such as its certificate 8(a) program, where selected companies gain access to resources. 

Federal law requires 23 percent of all federal contracting dollars go to small, minority and disadvantaged firms. According to its website, the 8(a) program is designed to help small business owners who may experience racial or cultural bias while trying to access contracting opportunities.

Congressman Ivey pointed to the recent U.S. District Court decision in Tennessee ruling the fifth amendment violation in the case of  Ultima Servs. Corp v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. 

Ultima Corporation brought the lawsuit in January of 2023. Ultima argued that the 8 (a) program, facially and as applied, is unconstitutional because Ultima’s owner, despite being economically disadvantaged, does not fall within the group of small business owners who are presumed to be socially disadvantaged.  

Ultima, according to reports, also argued that the 8(a) program was established as a race-neutral program and that when SBA adopted and began employing the race-conscious presumption in the mid 19080’s it did so without Congressional approval.   

The case resulted on July 21, 2023 in the striking down of the 8 (a) program in its entirety.  Tennessee Federal Judge Clifton I. Corker disallowed the small business agency and the Department of Agriculture from using as a defense, “rebuttable presumption” of social disadvantage,  for a contractor in the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program. 

“Without stated goals for the 8(a) program or an understanding of whether certain minorities are underrepresented in a particular industry, defendants cannot measure the utility of the rebuttable presumption in remedying the effects of past racial discrimination,” Corker said. 

In response, Congressman Ivey said,  “we must track the statistics in making sure these programs are still around to fight for and expand our share of the pie. These programs are aimed at addressing ongoing racial discrimination.”

During the 2022 Fiscal Year, the government awarded $705 billion in federal contracts, an increase of $43 billion over 2021.  Federal records show that $159 billion from the federal government in 2022 was awarded to small, minority and disadvantaged businesses. Black-owned businesses received prime contracting status in only 6.4 percent of the federal deals, totaling $10.2 billion in 2022. 

“The federal government has been a source of growth for some of the largest businesses in America,” said Ivey. “The 8(a) program–and other programs within the SBA– are critical to making sure that minority businesses in the African-American community and beyond continue to have the opportunity to grow.” 

Congressman Ivey continued,  saying that leaders need to “work hard to make sure that these opportunities continue.” 

“The opportunity now is especially important because this is the time when the Biden Administration is pushing out billions and trillions of dollars in federal contracting that are going to go into communities over the next few years,” Ivey explained. 

He told those gathered about the need for Black business growth, which includes the hiring of Black people and provision of services in Black communities that others do not provide.

His goals for the future are clear.

“We will work within the laws under title six and legislatively and in addition  we’re asking the administration to create records that can be used to sustain these programs,” said Ivey. “As Justice Jackson so eloquently pointed out, racial discrimination isn’t a historical fact –it is a daily occurrence in the United States. That is clearly true in the economy.”