Judge Halts Minority-Only USDA Debt Forgiveness Program

By Jeremy Beaman July 04, 2021 | Image Source: Washington Examiner

The Department of Agriculture may not use a farmer’s race or ethnicity as a determinant of his or her eligibility for debt forgiveness, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

Judge Reed O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction to stop the Biden administration from discriminating on account of race or ethnicity in administering a provision of the American Rescue Plan providing “socially disadvantaged” farmers, which the Department of Agriculture considers to be any who are African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian American, or Pacific Islander, with loan forgiveness of up to 120% of their federal Farm Service Agency loan balances as of Jan. 1.

The injunction came at the request of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and two classes of petitioning farmers, which O’Connor certified in his Thursday order, who argued the program was racially discriminatory against nonminority farmers.

“Plaintiffs held qualifying FSA loans on January 1, 2021, but are white, making them ineligible for the funds under the [American Rescue Plan Act],” the plaintiffs said, arguing in an April 26 class action complaint filed in federal district court in the Northern District of Texas that the loan forgiveness program violates the Constitution and other federal equal protection laws.

O’Connor ruled the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on equal protection grounds in halting the program, determining that “plaintiffs are suffering a continuing and irreparable injury based on the direct effects of the race- and ethnicity-based application process.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently responded to litigation, which in addition to the suit in Texas includes one filed by a white Wisconsin farmer that resulted in a court order, by pointing to the “cumulative effect of discrimination” over history.

“Now, we are having white farmers stepping up and asking why they’re not included in this program,” Vilsack said. “Well, it’s pretty clear why they’re not included — because they’ve had the access of all the programs for the last 100 years. … It’s important, I think, for us to acknowledge the cumulative effect of discrimination, and this is one way that Congress is directing us to do that.”

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to former President Donald Trump and the president of America First Legal which represented the plaintiffs in Texas, said the injunction was a win in the battle between equality and equity, which he called the “defining legal and policy battle of our time.”

“Equity is the competitor concept to equality,” Miller told the Washington Examiner.

“The notion that the proper way to remedy past injustice is future injustice is one of the greatest logical fallacies I can possibly imagine.

“That is, in fact, totally contrary to the American ideal of justice,” he said. “That something was done wrong in the past and so we’ll make up for it by doing something wrong today is just completely alien to our whole constitutional system.”

Plaintiffs also targeted the definition of a “socially disadvantaged” farmer, which the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act defines as one who is part of a group “whose members have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities,” arguing that the USDA’s interpretation should consider Europeans like the Irish and Italians, as well as Jews, who faced historical discrimination in the United States.

“Equal justice under law, the idea that no man and no woman is to be treated any differently, regardless of their station in life, their ethnicity, their race, their wealth, which part of the country they live in, who they know, you name it, everyone is equal. … It is the defining feature of law that has been refined for centuries, before our country was even born,” Miller said.

The Washington Examiner reached out to the White House and to the USDA for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

Author: Jeremy Beaman

Source: Washington Examiner: Judge halts minority-only USDA debt forgiveness program