Judges continue to look askance at President Biden’s attempts to allocate benefits based on race.
The Biden administration took another hit Wednesday when a federal judge in Florida granted a preliminary injunction against the Agriculture Department’s program to provide loan forgiveness to non-White farmers and ranchers.
The order by U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Morales Howard blocked the USDA from issuing payments under the $4 billion debt-relief program to “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” [SDFRs] established in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
Judge Howard found that the plaintiff, farmer Scott Wynn of Jennings, Florida, “has shown that absent an injunction, all SDFRs with qualifying farm loans will receive up to 120% debt relief and he will suffer the harm of being excluded from eligibility for that debt relief program solely on the basis of his race.”
“That harm, he has shown, is irreparable,” she said in her 49-page ruling. “The debt relief given to the SDFRs cannot be undone, the Court cannot order that Plaintiff receive equivalent relief, and money damages are precluded. The harm will be complete and its effects will be cast in stone.”
The order comes as the latest defeat for the Biden administration in its effort to provide pandemic relief to minorities while excluding Whites.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge William C. Griesbach in the Eastern District of Wisconsin blocked the USDA’s loan-forgiveness plan in a case filed by farmers from eight states, but issued a temporary restraining order pending a decision on a preliminary injunction.
The federal judge’s ruling in the Florida case was broader, granting the injunction immediately in a decision that applies nationwide.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the $29 billion restaurant-relief program that prioritized minority and women applicants.
The Biden administration has argued that such preferences are needed to “remedy the effects of past and present discrimination,” while the White plaintiffs counter that the racial requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Judge Howard agreed that the Florida farmer was likely to prevail on his claim that he suffered race-based discrimination under the USDA’s Section 1005 debt-relief program.
“Regardless of farm size, an SDFR receives up to 120% debt relief. And regardless of whether an SDFR is having the most profitable year ever and not remotely in danger of foreclosure, that SDFR receives up to 120% debt relief,” she said in the decision. “Yet a small White farmer who is on the brink of foreclosure can do nothing to qualify for debt relief.”
“Race or ethnicity is the sole, inflexible factor that determines the availability of relief provided by the Government under Section 1005,” the ruling said.
Wen Fa, attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which sought the injunction, said that the ruling “enforces a basic foundation of our Constitution: The government can’t treat people unequally based on immutable characteristics like race.”
John Boyd Jr., who heads the National Black Farmers Association, said it was a “shame this federal judge clearly doesn’t understand what discrimination is.”
“It’s Black and other farmers of color who have been discriminated against by USDA in all its program(s),” he told CNN. “Addressing decades-long discrimination in the debt relief program is not unconstitutional.”