A federal judge took the extraordinary rare step of issuing a temporary restraining order halting President Joe Biden’s $4 billion loan forgiveness program for minority farmers, saying the plan replaced one form of discrimination with another because white farmers are excluded.
Wisconsin Judge William Griesbach, a George W. Bush appointee, also claimed the plan did not give adequate examples of recent hardships imposed on minority farmers.
“The obvious response to a government agency that claims it continues to discriminate against farmers because of their race or national origin is to direct it to stop: it is not to direct it to intentionally discriminate against others on the basis of their race and national origin,” Griesbach wrote.
“Indeed, Congress can implement race-neutral programs to help farmers and ranchers in need of financial assistance, such as requiring individual determinations of disadvantaged status or giving priority to loans of farmers and ranchers that were left out of the previous pandemic relief funding,” Griesbach wrote. “It can also provide better outreach, education, and other resources. But it cannot discriminate on the basis of race.”
The money for farmers is part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that directs $4 billion to offer loan forgiveness through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and would be used to pay up to 120 percent of direct or guaranteed farm loan balances for black, American Indian, Hispanic, Asian American, or Pacific Islander farmers.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the lawsuit:
The group is representing 12 farmers, two of whom live in Wisconsin. Calumet County dairy farmer Adam Faust, who farms with both legs amputated after being born with spina bifida, and Christopher Baird, who owns a dairy farm near Ferryville in Crawford County.
“There should absolutely be no federal dollars going anywhere just based on race,” Faust said.
“The Court recognized that the federal government’s plan to condition and allocate benefits on the basis of race raises grave constitutional concerns and threatens our clients with irreparable harm,” said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel for Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL). “The Biden administration is radically undermining bedrock principles of equality under the law.”
The Sentinel reported the USDA is still implementing the program but is reviewing what the restraining order means for its future.
”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,” a USDA spokesperson said. ”When the temporary order is lifted, USDA will be prepared to provide the debt relief authorized by Congress.”
Some 17,000 farmers and ranchers from all 50 states qualify for the assistance, according to the Sentinel.
The case in Faust v. Vilsack, No. 1:21-cv-528 for the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin.
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