Originally Published in NBC News
Dareh Gregorian - April 28, 2021
A legal group founded by former Trump aide Stephen Miller has filed a lawsuit claiming President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan discriminates against white farmers.
"We hold fast to the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr. that Americans 'should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,'” Miller, the architect of former President Donald Trump's anti-immigration and child separation policies, said in a statement Wednesday announcing the legal action.
Miller said the federal lawsuit brought by America First Legal — the group he founded with former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows to challenge "the radical activist left" — "makes clear that it will defend MLK's vision, our Constitutional order, and the civil rights of all citizens."
The group filed the proposed class action lawsuit on behalf of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in his capacity as a private citizen on Monday. The suit takes aim at the roughly $5 billion set aside for loan forgiveness for "socially disadvantaged" farmers and ranchers within the sprawling $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by Biden last month.
The lawsuit alleges that “the Department of Agriculture interprets this phrase to include African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaskan natives, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders…but 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.”
"These racial exclusions are patently unconstitutional," the suit contends. It also argues that if the court does not agree, "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."
In a statement to NBC News, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, "We are reviewing the complaint and working with the Department of Justice. During this review, we will continue to implement the debt relief to qualified socially disadvantaged borrowers under the American Rescue Plan Act."
The White House said in March a part of the bill would "support farmers of color with $4 billion toward debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers to pay off burdensome debts."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Washington Post the money would address long-standing inequities. “For generations, socially disadvantaged farmers have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt,” Vilsack said last month. “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.”
The Post, citing USDA data, reported that only 45,000 of the country's 3.4 million farmers are Black, down from 1 million a century ago.
A study by the nonprofit activist organization Environmental Working Group earlier this year found that of the $9.2 billion in bailout money set aside for farmers through October of last year by the USDA, almost 97 percent went to white farmers. It also showed that white farmers were paid roughly four times more than Black farmers. The numbers for the $28 billion in aid payments to farmers during Trump's trade war with China were even starker, with 99 percent of the money going to white farmers, according to the group.
The suit is the second to be filed with the backing of America First Legal, which took its name from a Trump campaign slogan with a controversial history. The first legal action, which is pending, helped challenge Biden's immigration policies.
Trump announced he was backing Miller and Meadows' effort to "turn the tables" on Democrats in court earlier this month. "The era of unilateral legal surrender must end," Trump said.