A federal judge has halted Joe Biden's 'unconstitutional' $4 billion program to pay up to 120 percent of black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American farmers' debt, after 12 white farmers sued claiming it discriminated against them.
Wisconsin Judge William Griesbach issued a temporary restraining order Thursday blocking the loan forgiveness program Biden put in place after saying he wanted to tackle longstanding inequalities for farmers of color.
Judge Griesbach said the plan failed to provide adequate examples of recent hardships imposed on farmers from minority backgrounds. He also claimed that in trying to end one type of discrimination, the program ended up creating another.
Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan set aside $4 billion to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for loan forgiveness for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
The money 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.
A group of 12 farmers from nine states filed a lawsuit against the USDA in April alleging the program exempts white farmers and is a violation of their constitutional rights.
A federal judge has halted Joe Biden's 'unconstitutional' $4 billion program to pay up to 120 percent of black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American farmers' debt, after 12 white farmers sued claiming it discriminated against them
Griesbach sided with the white farmers Thursday temporarily halting the USDA from proceeding with the loan relief payments and saying the 'race-based criteria' is a violation of equal rights.
He said the lawsuit is 'likely to succeed on the merits of their claim' that the program's 'use of race-based criteria in the administration of the program violates their right to equal protection under the law.'
The USDA has identified 'socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher' to mean farmers 'who are one or more of the following: Black/African American, American Indian, Alaskan native, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, or Pacific Islander,' the judge noted.
The agency does not actually consider, he ruled, 'the financial circumstances of the applicant.'
Griesbach also said there was 'no evidence of intentional discrimination' of minority farmers in recent government assistance.
'Aside from a summary of statistical disparities, defendants have no evidence of intentional discrimination by the USDA in the implementation of the recent agriculture subsidies and pandemic relief efforts,' he wrote.
The judge said the program discriminates against one group in an attempt to tackle discrimination against another.
Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan set aside $4 billion to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for loan forgiveness for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Biden is pictured during the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall Saturday
'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 said.
'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,' he said.
'But it cannot discriminate on the basis of race.'
The ruling was welcomed by the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty which represented the white farmers - from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon and Kentucky - in the suit.
'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,' President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Wisconsin Judge William Griesbach (pictured) issued a temporary restraining order Thursday blocking the loan forgiveness program siding with a group of 12 farmers who filed a lawsuit against the USDA in April alleging the program violates their constitutional rights
'The Biden administration is radically undermining bedrock principles of equality under the law.'
The USDA said it disagrees with the judge's ruling and will carry on with plans for the program when the temporary order is lifted.
'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,' department spokesman Matt Herrick told NBC News.
'When the temporary order is lifted, USDA will be prepared to provide the debt relief authorized by Congress.'
The program was put in place in an effort to tackle longstanding inequities that have plagued farming.
It was hailed by civil rights groups as the most significant legislation for black farmers since the Civil Rights Act.
The program 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
Minority farmers have maintained for decades that they have been unfairly denied farm loans and other government assistance
Around 17,000 farmers of color would be eligible to access the assistance.
Minority farmers have maintained for decades that they have been unfairly denied farm loans and other government assistance.
Federal agriculture officials in 1999 and 2010 settled lawsuits from black farmers accusing the agency of discriminating against them.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the disparity had worsened during the pandemic.
'For generations, socially disadvantaged farmers have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt,' he told The Washington Post.
'On top of the economic pain caused by the pandemic, farmers from socially disadvantaged communities are dealing with a disproportionate share of COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations, death and economic hurt.'
Data from the USDA shows the number of black farmers has shrunk from one million around a century to 45,000 today.