Miller sued the USDA for unlawful racial discrimination a month after Congress issued the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, which provides loan forgiveness of up to 120 percent for “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers. Miller claimed that the bill and the USDA violated the law by excluding white farmers from this benefit.
On June 1, the court granted Miller a preliminary injunction to stop the USDA from discriminating based on race until the case is resolved.
“The Court finds that Plaintiffs suffer an ongoing constitutional injury from the irreversible act of government-sanctioned racial discrimination and that, on balance, this harm weighs in favor of immediate injunctive relief here,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote.
Miller’s suit is a class-action case. A number of white Texas farmers joined Miller, who has been acting in his personal capacity and not as Texas agriculture commissioner. Miller and the farmers also sued on behalf of all “farmers and ranchers in the United States who are encountering, or who will encounter, racial discrimination from the United States Department of Agriculture on account of… the American Rescue Plan Act.”
They aren’t the only plaintiffs bringing lawsuits against the federal government for racial discrimination against whites in the ARP. Farmers from Wisconsin to Florida have brought similar lawsuits and won similar injunctions.
In its court briefs, the USDA has noted that racial discrimination can serve lawful government interests.
“Congress concluded that paying off minority farmers’ qualifying USDA loans was necessary to further its interests in remedying well-documented, long-standing racial discrimination in USDA loan programs and to ensure that its pandemic relief efforts did not perpetuate the effects of that discrimination,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote.
“The Supreme Court has recognized that the Government can use race-conscious measures to further exactly those types of compelling interests.”
However, the court was unconvinced that denying loan forgiveness to whites would ease specific racial discrimination.
“The Government again fails to adequately explain how the exclusion of certain races and ethnicities from consideration for loan forgiveness benefits the already eligible socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers or the public at large,” O’Connor wrote.
“Even if it could, the inherent harm from an unlawful government-run racially discriminatory program is detrimental to the public interest.”
Citing another case — Vitolo v. Guzman, in which a white male restaurateur sued the federal government over the ARP’s race and gender discrimination — O’Connor called government policies that classify people by race “presumptively invalid.” His order says the government has to meet certain thresholds before racial discrimination can become lawful.
“The policy must target a specific episode of past discrimination, not simply relying on generalized assertions of past discrimination in an industry; there must be evidence of past intentional discrimination, not simply statistical disparities; and the government must have participated in the past discrimination it now seeks to remedy,” the order reads.
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