A conservative law group from Wisconsin has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the Biden administration’s loan forgiveness program for farmers is “unconstitutional race discrimination” and should be suspended.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty represents farmers in multiple states who believe the Biden administration farmer loan forgiveness program is race discrimination because it is only open to people of some racial backgrounds.
The New York Times has described the Biden loan forgiveness program as being “at the center of the White House’s racial equity agenda.” The Biden administration’s stance is that the program is needed to redress decades of racial discrimination that harmed Black farmers and reduced the number of Black-owned farms in the United States, such as lack of equal access to capital.
You can read the lawsuit in full here. WILL has taken on many hot-button conservative causes legally over the years, including defending former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s “Act 10” collective bargaining reforms, an academic freedom case involving a conservative Marquette University professor, COVID-19 related lawsuits challenging government regulations, and election-related lawsuits, such as one relating to the voter rolls. The group has received millions of dollars in funding from the Bradley Foundation.
The federal lawsuit opposes what a WILL press release calls “the unconstitutional race discrimination in the American Rescue Plan’s provision to offer loan forgiveness based on racial categories.” WILL wants an injunction and a declaratory judgment “that the
racial classifications in the American Rescue Plan Act’s farmer loan forgiveness program are unconstitutional,” its press release says.
A legal group run by former Donald Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the America First Legal Foundation, has also sued the Biden administration over the program, alleging race discrimination.
Here’s what you need to know:
One of the Farmers WILL Represents Says, ‘We Shouldn’t Be Looking at the Color of Someone’s Skin’ But Biden’s Agricultural Secretary has Vowed to Redress ‘Systemic Discrimination’ Against Black Farmers
WILL filed the lawsuit on April 29, 2021, in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The law group represents farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Ohio, who are upset that they don’t qualify for the Biden program.
“Each plaintiff would be eligible for the federal loan forgiveness program but for their race,” Biden’s press release says.
Adam Faust, a farmer from Calumet County, Wisconsin, said, “There should absolutely be no federal dollars going anywhere just based on race. The economic impact from COVID-19 didn’t hurt any race more than another as far as agriculture goes,” according to the WILL press release.
“There is a case for loan forgiveness for individuals,” said Christopher Baird, a Crawford County, Wisconsin, farmer, also in the press release. “But we shouldn’t be looking at the color of someone’s skin and saying this person needs more help or less help based on the color of their skin. That’s just wrong.”
WILL represents the following farmers:
• “Adam P. Faust owns a dairy farm in Calumet County, near Chilton, Wisconsin. Mr. Faust is a double-amputee. In addition to milking about 70 Holstein cows, Mr. Faust farms 200 acres for feed for his cows.
• Christopher C. Baird owns a dairy farm near Ferryville in Crawford County, Wisconsin.Just ten miles from the Mississippi River, Mr. Baird milks over 50 Jersey cows and farms approximately 80 acres of pasture.
• Jonathan P. Stevens owns Maple Grove Farms near Rock Creek, Minnesota. Mr. Stevens raises about 25 beef cattle and grows corn, soybeans, and other crops on about 700 acres.
• Jay T. Slaba raises about 350 head of beef cattle and farms about 1,000 acres of corn and other crops in northwest South Dakota.
• Joseph W. Schmitz farms approximately 50 acres of corn and soybeans in western Ohio.”
The New York Times reported that the Biden program is designed to help Black farmers by “pledging to reverse decades of discriminatory agricultural lending and subsidy policies that have left Black farmers at an economic disadvantage.” It would funnel $5 billion “in aid and debt relief to help them.”
According to the Times, Biden’s agricultural secretary Tom Vilsack promised to “redress ‘systemic discrimination'” against Black farmers.
“Let me be clear: There is no place in the U.S.D.A. for discrimination — none,” Vilsack said, according to the Times, which added that the number of Black-owned farms has plunged from a million to about 40,000. According to the Times, the Agricultural Department historically denied “farmers of color the same access to capital” as white farmers.
While the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 does not appropriate funds directly, it’s estimated that $4 billion will be used to provide direct payments of up to 120% of a socially disadvantaged, e.g., Black, Hispanic, Native American or Asian American, farmer’s or rancher’s outstanding debt as of Jan. 1, 2021. The loans include USDA Farm Service Agency direct farm loans, USDA guaranteed loans and Commodity Credit Corporation farm storage loans, among others. The additional 20% is intended to pay off the taxes associated with the amount of the direct payment related to the outstanding debt.
In addition to the debt forgiveness, the act appropriates $1.01 billion to provide outreach, training, education, technical assistance, grants and loans, and funding to educational institutions to help improve land access for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and address heir’s property issues, among other issues. In total, more than $5 billion is expected to fund provisions designed to provide assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers or provide debt relief for these farmers and ranchers.
WILL Says the Biden Program Is Unconstitutional
WILL argues the Biden program is unconstitutional.
WILL President and General Counsel, Rick Esenberg, said, also in the release, “Conditioning benefits from the federal government on the basis of race is unconstitutional. WILL is committed to ensuring that the current threats to the bedrock principle of equality under the law, something that many generations have worked tirelessly to achieve, are challenged and fought.”
The Biden program is called the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), and it’s part of Biden’s COVID-19 relief efforts.
According to WILL’s press release, that act “provides billions of dollars of debt relief to ‘socially disadvantaged’ farmers and ranchers. But the law’s definition of ‘socially disadvantaged’ includes explicit racial classifications: farmers and ranchers must be Black or African American, American Indian or Alaskan native, Hispanic or Latino, or Asian American or Pacific Islander. Other farmers—white farmers, for example—are ineligible.”
This is illegal and unconstitutional. The United States Constitution ‘forbids’ discrimination by the federal government ‘against any citizen because of his race.’ For the federal government to distribute ‘benefits on the basis of individual racial classifications,’ the government must prove that its discriminatory benefit is narrowly tailored and serves a compelling government interest. In this case, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) describe their generalized goal of ending ‘systemic racism.’ But such broad goals do not override the constitutional ban on race discrimination. In fact, the Supreme Court has ‘rejected the interest in remedying societal discrimination because it had no logical stopping point.’