Lawyers exchanged arguments Wednesday without determining whether a federal judge in Jacksonville will block a farm aid program that critics say unconstitutionally excludes white farmers on the basis of their race.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard questioned attorneys for nearly two hours before saying she would later decide to issue an injunction in the lawsuit filed last month by Hamilton County farmer Scott Wynn.
the trial by Wynn, who is white, argued that payments of up to 120 percent of farmers’ debt on or backed by US Department of Agriculture loans only use race to decide who gets l ‘help.
“Because he is white, he is categorically excluded,” Wynn’s attorney Wencong Fa told the judge of a program approved by Congress in the American rescue plan to alleviate the debt of farmers labeled “socially disadvantaged”.
The bailout defined underprivileged farmers as Black, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hispanic, or Asians / Pacific Islanders.
Fa has sought an injunction to prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture from implementing the program while Wynn’s case winds its way to court, saying her client could otherwise suffer irreparable harm.
“How does he hurt that other people will get funds?” The judge asked Fa, who said his client “deserved at least a chance to receive some of the funds on a race neutral basis.”
The lawsuit is part of a series of cases filed across the country over debt relief that was part of the pandemic relief bill President Joe Biden passed this spring.
A Wisconsin judge last week released a temporary restraining order prevent the USDA from carrying out its program until it rules on an injunction request there, but lawyers continue to litigate the other cases in the country.
Fa, who works for the association Pacific Legal Foundation, runs costumes similar to Wynn’s by white farmers in Illinois and Texas.
US Department of Justice lawyer Emily Newton told the judge the funds were intended to help people who had been harmed for many years by USDA’s discrimination against minorities.
About $ 2.4 billion of an estimated $ 4 billion relief cost has been spent so far, Newton told the judge. But she stressed that the bailout only mentions spending “of the money that may be needed” for the program, so there is no guaranteed maximum or minimum cost.
Noting that racially-neutral programs are required except in limited circumstances, Newton told the judge that “Congress has tried this for the past 30 years,” but minority farmers are still at much greater risk of foreclosure or foreclosure. bankruptcy. She said the debt relief plan rules are a legal way to deal with a problem that race-neutral ideas haven’t solved.
Two groups of minority farmers – the National Association of Black Farmers and the Native American Farmers Association – deposit paperwork declaring support for the government and asking for permission to intervene in the case. But they asked Howard to defer acting on that request unless it became clear that they no longer agreed with the government.