A conservative legal group founded by former Trump administration officials Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows filed a lawsuit accusing the Biden administration of discriminating against “white ethnic groups” in the distribution of COVID-19 aid for farmers and ranchers.
The prospective class action lawsuit—filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas—stems from the debt relief afforded to “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that Congress passed last month. According to the lawsuit, brought by America First Legal on behalf of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “socially disadvantaged” farmers as “African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaskan natives, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders.” It further asserts that “white farmers and ranchers are not included within the definition of ‘socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,’ making them ineligible for aid under these federal programs.”
“Setting aside the propriety of the use of these classifications for benefits, this definition of “socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher” departs from the plain statutory text by failing to include white ethnic groups that have unquestionably suffered ethnic prejudice,” the suit stated. “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. These are the principles etched into our founding documents, fought for on our nation’s battlefields, written into the Gettysburg Address, and delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King.”
Referring to such distinctions as “patently unconstitutional,” plaintiff seeks to have the court declare the policy to be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and issue a permanent injunction preventing the policy from taking effect. In the alternative, he asked the court to order the USDA to interpret the phrase “socially disadvantaged group” to include “white ethnic groups that have suffered past prejudice and discrimination.”
“If the Court is unwilling to declare the Department’s racial exclusions and the underlying statutes unconstitutional, then it should at the very least declare that the phrase ‘socially disadvantaged group’ must be construed, as a matter of statutory interpretation, to include ethnic groups of all types that have been subjected to racial and ethnic prejudice, including (but not limited to) Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews, and eastern Europeans,” the complaint stated.
ARPA’s definition of “socially disadvantaged farmers” comes from Section 2501 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990 (FACT Act). Under the FACT Act, A farmer or rancher is socially disadvantaged is they are “a member of one or more of the following groups whose members have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities.” Those groups include “but are not limited to,” African Americans, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asians, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, Refugees, Immigrants.
Additionally, the statute states that the Secretary of Agriculture can determine if groups not explicitly mentioned qualify for aid on a case-by-case basis.
Read the full lawsuit below.
[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]
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