June 24 (UPI) – A Florida federal judge blocked a debt relief program for farmers of color in response to a lawsuit brought by a white farmer.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard issued a temporary injunction Wednesday ordering the agriculture ministry not to issue payments under the $ 4 billion program for “socially disadvantaged” farmers until it is able to rule on the merits of the case .
Howard wrote that the program included in President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion US bailout is “very likely” to violate the constitutional rights of Scott Wynn of Florida, who brought the lawsuit.
“It appears that by enacting the strict use of race-based debt relief in Section 1005, Congress acted very quickly to address the history of discrimination, but failed to acted very carefully, ”she wrote. “Indeed, the remedy chosen and provided for in Section 1005 appears to fall far short of the delicate balance achieved when legislation uses race in a narrowly tailored manner to meet a specific compelling government interest.”
The program identified a socially disadvantaged farmer or pastoralist as any person from a group who has been “subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as a member of a group regardless of their individual qualities”, according to a house code.
The US Department of Agriculture has also said it would determine “on a case-by-case basis if additional groups are eligible under this definition in response to a written request with supporting explanation.”
Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the lawsuit on Wynn’s behalf, said the injunction imposed that the government cannot use “fixed characteristics like race” to differentiate the way he treats people.
“The government cannot allow some people to participate in federal programs while denying others solely on the basis of their skin color,” said Wen Fa, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation. “The courts have rightly rejected such discrimination in the past and should do so now.”
John Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, called the decision a “parody.”
“It’s a shame this federal judge clearly doesn’t understand what discrimination is. It is black people and other farmers of color who have been discriminated against by the USDA in all of its programs. Tackle the discrimination that has gone on for decades in the debt relief provision is not unconstitutional, ”he told CNN.
Thursday’s decision was the the second time a court has sought to block the program after a Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order against the measure in response to a lawsuit by a group of white farmers.
“The government must not be allowed to use its awesome authorities to punish, harm, exclude, prefer, reward or harm its citizens based on their race or ethnicity,” said Stephen Miller, former House aide. Blanche and director of America First Legal, which supported one of the farmer groups in their lawsuit.