The USDA sends certain aid money to “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers, defining the term “socially disadvantaged” to include African-Americans, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asians, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders. In his eleven-page lawsuit, Miller argues that this interpretation leaves out white farmers.
“Equal rights under law is the cornerstone of American constitutional jurisprudence: the principle that all citizens, regardless of status, wealth, race, color, religion, or creed, have the same rights and are entitled to the same standard of justice,” the lawsuit reads.
“Yet, today, the Department of Agriculture lurches America dangerously backward, reversing the clock on American progress, and violating our most sacred and revered principles by actively and invidiously discriminating against American citizens solely based upon their race. This is illegal, it is unconstitutional, it is wrong, and it must stop.”
Federal code defines “socially disadvantaged group” a bit more broadly than the USDA’s specific racial terms. As Miller notes in his lawsuit, “the term ‘socially disadvantaged group’ means 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” in federal law.
Miller argues that this definition — which, unlike the USDA’s rules, names no particular racial group — can include “white ethnic groups that have unquestionably suffered ethnic prejudice,” naming the Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews, and eastern Europeans.
Specifically, Miller makes three claims to the court.
First, the lawsuit argues that the USDA’s racial exclusions violate both the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the grounds of race, color, or national origin in any program that receives federal funds. Here, Miller seeks a declaration that any statute limiting the benefits of federal programs to “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” is unconstitutional.
Second, if the court will not declare such statutes unconstitutional, Miller asks that it at least include white ethnic groups which have suffered racial prejudice in the term “socially disadvantaged.” He seeks a declaration that the USDA’s interpretation of this term, which lists a particular set of racial groups, ignores white ethnic groups that have suffered discrimination. For this alternative, he also seeks an injunction against the USDA from excluding “Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews, eastern Europeans, and any other ethnic group that has suffered racial and ethnic prejudice” from the meaning of the words “socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher” in federal code.
As a third alternative, Miller claims that the court should at least declare that farmers with “any discernible trace of minority ancestry” must be included in the phrase “socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher.”
Though by no means the sole dispatcher of agricultural aid, the American Rescue Plan — President Joe Biden’s signature stimulus and COVID-19 relief plan that rolled out in March — took center stage in Miller’s lawsuit as a recent example of farm funds that only flowed to the “socially disadvantaged.” Among other aid, it provides loan assistance of up to 120 percent to qualifying farmers and ranchers.
Jonathan Mitchell, former solicitor general of Texas, is handling the case. Mitchell frequently takes on high-profile conservative causes, having offered to handle any potential litigation that the “Sanctuary Cities of the Unborn” might face.
Miller is suing the USDA “on behalf of himself and others similarly situated,” not in his official capacity. He filed his complaint two days ago and the USDA has not yet filed a response.
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