“Its members realize the benefits from the program and that the constitutionality of racial justice programs be upheld,” wrote the group’s attorneys with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Although the Federation’s members will be most impacted by the outcome of this case, the record is currently devoid of any stories or narratives of Black farmers or other farmers of color. … It is certain that the Federation will present the case of past governmental discrimination more comprehensively and compellingly than the government has to date.”
Background: The lawsuit at hand, Miller v. Vilsack, was first filed by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who argued that the program unconstitutionally discriminates against white farmers. The suit, backed by an organization led by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, came about a month after the debt relief was passed by Congress in the March Covid-19 relief package.
In July, Federal District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction concluding that the program is probably unconstitutional and ordering USDA to not issue any payments until litigation is complete.
The Texas case is one of a slew of legal challenges to the program. A federal District Court in Florida was the first to issue a preliminary injunction, and a judge in Wisconsin issued a temporary restraining order.
The Justice Department, defending the program on behalf of USDA, opted not to appeal the first preliminary injunction issued or similar orders in other cases.
In the weeks leading up to the first appeal deadline, legal experts interviewed by POLITICO said the Biden administration faced long odds to rescue the debt relief program in court and could jeopardize other government programs that explicitly take account of race. That means one of the only viable options to provide debt relief is for Congress to amend the law.
Meanwhile in Congress: Democrats in Congress, however, are looking to amend the previous debt relief program passed in March and replace it with an $11 billion program that would provide debt relief to “economically distressed” and “at-risk” farmers for the same loans as the previous package. However, this also includes white farmers.
A committee document and Congressional Budget Office score leaked by the House Agriculture Republican members show a draft of the reconciliation text that amends the Covid relief package to provide $6 billion through reconciliation in addition to the $5 billion the CBO estimates the last debt relief would have cost.