Judge Blocks Biden Farm Aid Plan as Possibly Biased Against Whites
(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge in Florida blocked the Biden administration from distributing $4 billion in stimulus debt-relief aid to “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” over concerns that the plan discriminates against White people.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard in Jacksonville on Wednesday issued an injunction against the plan, saying a White farmer who sued the Department of Agriculture alleging bias is likely to succeed if the case goes to trial.
At issue is the definition of “socially disadvantaged” in the provision of farm loan-forgiveness aid included in the $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill. The Agriculture Department has said the plan was designed to remedy past discrimination against Black and other minority farmers in the distribution of government assistance.
But the judge said the Biden administration had so far failed to justify using race as a factor in forgiving farm loans. “There is little evidence that the Government gave serious consideration to, or tried, race-neutral alternatives” to the provision, Howard, a George W. Bush appointee, said in her ruling.
Howard is the second federal judge to block the plan in response to a lawsuit by a White farmer. U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Milwaukee issued a restraining order against it earlier this month. A number of similar suits have been filed, including one in Texas by America First Legal, a conservative legal group launched in April by former top Trump aides Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows, among others. That suit alleges the Biden loan-forgiveness plan violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against “Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews and eastern Europeans.”
The Agriculture Department didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Howard’s ruling. It previously said it would vigorously defend the plan following the Milwaukee ruling.
In the Florida case, Howard dismissed evidence presented by the government showing relief efforts during Donald Trump’s presidency had almost exclusively benefited White farmers, saying the reason for the lopsided impact was due to types of farms receiving aid -- not the race of the owners.
She also questioned the plan’s inclusion of Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, saying there was “exceedingly thin” evidence of discrimination against those groups in government farm programs.
“The overinclusive nature of the relief casts doubt on its necessity,” the judge said.
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