Chief U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Anderson, sitting in Tennessee, issued a national injunction Monday that prohibits the Biden administration from forgiving minority farm loans as part of its American Rescue Plan, calling that part of the law “reverse racism.”
Under Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan, minority farmers could get debt relief that other farmers could not as a way of responding to “a long history” of racial discrimination and the disproportionate harm wrought on minorities by the COVID-19 pandemic.
White farmers, including Rob Holman, a rancher in Tennessee, filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture claiming the law was “reverse racism” by granting the loan forgiveness program to farmers that were “Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, or Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.”
“Absent action by the court, socially disadvantaged farmers will obtain debt relief, while (Holman) will suffer the irreparable harm of being excluded from that program solely on the basis of his race,” Anderson wrote in his ruling.
Anderson found that the USDA was not engaged in racism against minorities today and failed to show the court that it had discriminated with program eligibility before the legislation was passed earlier this year.
The $2 million USDA grant program, which closed applications on May 31, awarded $20,000-$99,000 to 50 successful applicants who were targeted for being “socially disadvantaged.”
According to the USDA, the “funding opportunity is intended to provide targeted, focused, specific outreach to socially disadvantaged producers in areas and communities where outreach efforts have not been effective in the past and where participation in Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs is historically lower for socially disadvantaged producers. For purposes of this NFO [notice of funding opportunity], socially disadvantaged groups are defined as a group whose members have been subjected to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities. These groups include American Indians or Alaskan Natives, Asians, Blacks or African Americans, Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and in the case of FSA loan farm programs, women; veterans are not identified.”
Tennessee now joins Florida and Wisconsin in placing an injunction on the law, with federal judges in those states issuing similar orders.
Holman’s suit claimed the new law was unconstitutional and violated earlier Civil Rights laws.
“(The USDA’s) use of race discrimination as a tool to end ‘systemic racism’ is patently unconstitutional, inconsistent with the ‘magnificent words of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence,’ (as) Martin Luther King (said in his) 'I Have a Dream' (speech in 1963,) and should be enjoined by the court,” the suit said.
The government responded to the suit saying the USDA found discrimination in its earlier practices and the measure is meant to correct that.
“Congress considered strong evidence that discriminatory loan practices at USDA have placed minority farmers at a significant disadvantage today: these farmers generally own smaller farms, have disproportionately higher delinquency rates, and are at a significantly higher risk of foreclosure than non-minority farmers,” the response said.
The injunctions effectively stopped the program from being implemented until its constitutionality is established.
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