A federal judge in Florida temporarily halted President Joe Biden’s $4 billion debt relief program exclusively for “farmers of color,” saying that the program was racially discriminatory.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard sided with Scott Wynn, a Florida-based white farmer who sued to block the program in May.
The Department of Agriculture program was originally passed in March as part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, with the intention of providing relief to “socially disadvantaged farmers.”
“Section 1005’s rigid, categorical, race-based qualification for relief is the antithesis of flexibility,” Howard wrote.
“The debt relief provision applies strictly on racial grounds irrespective of any other factor,” she said.
However, Howard did say that the program could continue issuing relief while it sorted out the provisions deemed unconstitutional.
She also acknowledged the discriminatory history that minority farmers have faced, but said that present discrimination was the incorrect way to right past wrongs.
“It is undeniable — and notably uncontested by the parties — that U.S.D.A. had a dark history of past discrimination against minority farmers,” Howard wrote.
“It appears that in enacting Section 1005 Congress relies, albeit without any ill intention, on present discrimination to remedy past discrimination,” she said.
“On the record before the Court, it appears that in adopting Section 1005’s strict race-based debt relief remedy Congress moved with great speed to address the history of discrimination, but did not move with great care,” the judge added.
Earlier this month, Judge William Griesbach of Wisconsin’s Eastern District also issued a temporary restraining order after against Biden’s relief program.
The ruling came after the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit in April arguing that the exclusion of white farmers from the relief program was unconstitutional.
“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, said Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president and general counsel.
“The Biden administration is radically undermining bedrock principles of equality under the law,” he said.
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