Several federal courts have been handing defeats to the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats by finding that race-based benefits designated under the American Rescue Plan Act are unconstitutional. Some of the courts have also initiated nationwide injunctions against the USDA from administering certain benefits.
The Rescue Act provides relief from Farm Service Agency loans to farmers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but only those African-American, Hispanic, or Native American farmers. Judges in three states so far have ruled against the reparations mandate.
The White House defends the loan forgiveness program as a necessary measure for addressing many years of discrimination by the federal government against minority farmers. The bias the administration describes includes providing cheap loans to minority borrowers and otherwise restricting their access to loans and other services. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that previous lawsuits and settlements had been insufficient relief for “the systemic and cumulative impacts of discrimination.”
Rep. David Scott (D-GA), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, struck a harsh tone regarding the adverse legal decisions. “The very survival of Black farmers is at stake, and this would be an unpardonable sin because we, as Black slaves, did the hard work and provided the foundation for America’s great agriculture system for free, for over 200 years, under the lash of the slave masters’ whips.”
The cases so far have found that a general finding of previous racial disparities is insufficient to support benefits based solely on race. When the condition for qualification or disqualification is race, there must be some direct link between the loan relief and some identifiable act of particular discrimination.
U.S. District Judge William Griesbach, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote in his June 10 ruling in a case arising in Wisconsin:
“Aside from a summary of statistical disparities, defendants have no evidence of intentional discrimination by the USDA in the implementation of the recent agriculture subsidies and pandemic relief efforts. An observation that prior, race neutral relief efforts failed to reach minorities is no evidence at all that the government enacted or administered those policies in a discriminatory way.”
Injunctions have been granted in Wisconsin, Texas, and Florida, but no trials have yet been scheduled. Similar cases have been recently filed in Minnesota and Illinois on behalf of white farmers alleging discriminatory treatment by the federal government.