The Biden administration was slammed Thursday with another court ruling against its pandemic-relief program to pay off the federal loans of all non-White farmers.
U.S. District Court Judge S. Thomas Anderson of the Western District of Tennessee issued a preliminary injunction to stop the Agriculture Department from delivering race-based loan payments under Section 1005 of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
“The Court finds that Plaintiff has shown a substantial likelihood that he will prevail on his claim that Section 1005 violates his right to equal protection under the law,” said the 25-page decision. “Absent action by the Court, socially disadvantaged farmers will obtain debt relief, while Plaintiff will suffer the irreparable harm of being excluded from that program solely on the basis of his race.”
The ruling in favor of fourth-generation farmer Robert Holman of Union City, Tennessee, came as the latest court defeat for the USDA as it seeks to pay off up to 120% of qualified federal loans for “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers, defined as “Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, or Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.”
So far the White farmers and ranchers challenging the program are batting 1.000 against the Biden administration.
On July 1, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the USDA from implementing the program, a week after U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Morales Howard in the Middle District of Florida did the same.
Those orders were more sweeping than the temporary restraining order delivered June 10 by a federal judge in Wisconsin on behalf of 12 White farmers.
Mountain States Legal Foundation general counsel William E. Trachman, who represents Mr. Holman along with the Southeastern Legal Foundation, said that the “pandemic didn’t discriminate when it hurt farmers and ranchers last year, and the government shouldn’t discriminate now.”
“What’s it going to take for the Biden-Harris Administration to comply with the Constitution? Now that their discriminatory farming and ranch debt relief has been enjoined by another court as a violation of the equal protection clause, the writing is on the wall,” Mr. Trachman said in a statement.
The USDA argued that the race-based debt relief was needed to compensate for past discrimination against minority farmers, saying that nearly all of the $9.2 billion in the first round of novel coronavirus relief went to non-White farmers.
About 95% of all U.S. farmers are White, according to the USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture.
Over the last century, Black farmers have fallen from 14% to 2% of all farmers and lost 80% of their land, a decline driven by what the USDA described as its past discriminatory loan programs, but Judge Anderson said the Biden administration “presented no evidence of current intentional discrimination.”
“Instead, Defendants attempted to rely on statistical and anecdotal evidence, even though this type of evidence to show intentional discrimination has been rejected by the Sixth Circuit,” he said in his ruling.
A USDA spokesperson said after last month’s decision in Wisconsin that the administration would continue to fight on behalf of the race-based loan program.
“We respectfully disagree with this temporary order and USDA will continue to forcefully defend our ability to carry out this act of Congress and deliver debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers,” said the USDA statement on Wisconsin Public Radio. “When the temporary order is lifted, USDA will be prepared to provide the debt relief authorized by Congress.”
Thursday’s ruling in Tennessee came on the same day that the Upper Midwest Law Center sued on behalf of multiple Minnesota farmers, as reported by KSTP-TV in Minneapolis.