A venture capital fund meant to help Black women start and grow their businesses is under attack from a conservative group. Now a federal appeals court has put a temporary freeze on the women’s money. Here is the full story.
They Have a Mission
Founded in 2019, Fearless Fund was established, at least partially, to help businesses run by Black women get on their feet and moving forward.
Others Need Not Apply
But at least one conservative group takes exception to their Fearless Strivers Grant Contest, which accepts applications only from businesses owned by Black women.
Racially Exclusive and Illegal
According to Edward Blum of the American Alliance for Equal Rights, the program is racially exclusive and violates multiple federal laws.
Judge Slaps Him Down
Not everyone agrees with that take, though, and a federal judge in Atlanta denied Blum’s request for an injunction against the Fearless Fund in late September.
He Just Won’t Stop
That wasn’t the end of the road for Blum, who was back in federal appeals court just a few days later.
This time, he found more sympathetic ears.
Court Pauses Their Cause
In a 2-1 decision, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told Fearless Fund that they had to stop excluding other applicants from the application review process, at least temporarily.
Waiting on Due Process
In issuing their verdict, the appeals court said that the ban would last until the case could play out fully in the legal system.
All About Free Speech
Under the earlier ruling, Thomas Thrash said that Fearless Fund was protected by the First Amendment and its guarantee of Freedom of Speech.
Civil Rights Violation?
But in this new decision, Robert Luck and Andrew Brasher said that the Fearless Fund contest “likely” violates Section 1981 of the 1866 Civil Rights Act.
Was Lincoln on TikTok?
That post-Civil War law bans racial bias in issuing contracts of any sort.
Split Along Party Lines
Critics of the appeals court decision have noted that both Luck and Brasher were appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Clinton appointee Charles Wilson was the lone dissenting voice on the panel.
Perversion of Justice
Wilson called the citing of the 1866 Civil Rights Act in the court’s judgment a “perversion” of a law originally intended to protect newly freed slaves from discrimination.
Not a First Amendment Case
But in the majority decision, Luck and Brasher wrote that this is not a First Amendment case.
In particular, they say, the defendants do not have “the right to exclude persons from a contractual regime based on race.”
They’re Pressing Forward
Jason Schwartz, an attorney for Fearless Fund, says he remains committed to helping his clients get on with their mission of helping Black-owned, women-owned businesses.
In doing so, Fearless is hoping to close what they see as a huge gap in capital funding.
A Drop in the Bucket
According to Fearless Fund, less than 1% of money spent by venture capital companies made its way to businesses owned by Black women in 2022.
Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is
Meanwhile, Fearless Fund has invested about $27 million in 40 companies since their founding.
Long Road Ahead
With neither side willing to budge and this case calling into question fundamental principles of American business, it appears this battle will rage on for a good while longer.
SCOTUS Warming Up in the Locker Room
And, considering the high stakes and broader messages involved, a date in front of the United States Supreme Court may be all but inevitable.
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