Judge puts a stop to minority farmers debt relief plan, says it’s ‘reverse racism’
by Jamie Satterfield for Knoxville News Sentinel
A federal judge in West Tennessee has joined other judges in blocking a Biden administration program designed to redress generations of discrimination against some farmers, saying the federal government has failed to show the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminates against people of color today.
Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Anderson issued a national injunction that bars the Biden administration from enacting the loan forgiveness plan approved by Congress in March as part of the American Rescue Plan Act — a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
The injunction is the third to result from litigation filed in seven states, including Tennessee, on behalf of white farmers in the past month, according to court records. Federal judges in Florida and Wisconsin issued similar decisions last month.
President Joe Biden announced in late March the COVID-19 legislation included funding for a debt relief program for “Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, or Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander” farmers.
The administration explained it chose to funnel relief to qualifying farmers because of the USDA’s “long history” of discriminating against Black farmers and the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on minorities.
White farmers, including Tennessee rancher Rob Holman, are calling it “reverse racism” in litigation filed by conservative legal advocacy groups, including the Southeastern Legal Foundation and Mountain States Legal Foundation.
In his ruling, Anderson agreed.
“Absent action by the court, socially disadvantaged farmers will obtain debt relief, while (Holman) will suffer the irreparable harm of being excluded from that program solely on the basis of his race,” Anderson wrote.
White Tennessee rancher sues
Holman is a fourth-generation Tennessee rancher, according to court records. He and his father own and operate a 2,200-acre farm in Union City, Tennessee, growing “mostly corn and soybeans,” his lawsuit against the USDA states.
Holman, the lawsuit states, still owes roughly $39,000 on two USDA loans totaling $117,000 and would be eligible under the terms of the debt relief program save for one factor: his race.
“(The USDA’s) use of race discrimination as a tool to end ‘systemic racism’ is patently unconstitutional, inconsistent with the ‘magnificent words of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence,’ (as) Martin Luther King (said in his) ‘I Have a Dream’ (speech in 1963,) and should be enjoined by the court,” the lawsuit says.
Attorneys for the Biden Justice Department contend the government can employ race-based exclusions if they are “narrowly tailored” to address a specific wrong. The USDA’s debt relief program for minority farmers meets that constitutional boundary, they argue.
“Congress considered strong evidence that discriminatory loan practices at USDA have placed minority farmers at a significant disadvantage today: these farmers generally own smaller farms, have disproportionately higher delinquency rates, and are at a significantly higher risk of foreclosure than non-minority farmers,” the government’s responded to Holman’s injunction.
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