Judge suspends debt relief program for farmers of color after conservative law firm, white farmers sue Biden

A federal judge stopped payments for a lending program that provides relief to agricultural paint producers.
In response to a lawsuit filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in April, Judge William Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin issued an injunction Thursday afternoon.
The group claimed the Biden government had used an unconstitutional program to end systemic racism and should also make the relief available to white farmers.
"The court recognized that the federal government's plan to condition and assign benefits based on race raised serious constitutional concerns and threatened irreparable harm to our customers," said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of WILL. "The Biden government is radically undermining the foundations of equality under the law."
The group represents 12 farmers, two of whom live in Wisconsin: Calumet County's dairy farmer Adam Faust, who amputated both legs after he was born with spina bifida, and Christopher Baird, who owns a dairy farm near Ferryville in Crawford County .
When filing the lawsuit, Faust said the economic impact had not harmed any race more than another in agriculture.
"There should be absolutely no federal funds based solely on race," he said.
The group also represents farmers from Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon, and Kentucky.
Plaintiffs allege that the federal government "must demonstrate that its discriminatory advantage is tightly tailored and serves an overriding state interest" since racial discrimination is prohibited under the US Constitution.
In the lawsuit, WILL urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of the Farm Service Agency, not to consider race in determining who would be receiving aid.
The Biden government introduced the American Rescue Plan Act's lending program for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers earlier this year. The program paid up to 120% of direct or guaranteed farm loan amounts for Black, Indian or Alaskan, Hispanic or Latino producers, and Asian-American or Pacific islanders.
Officials said they realized that these groups of farmers and ranchers were facing systemic discrimination, resulting in cumulative effects that resulted in a significant loss in the numbers of socially disadvantaged producers, reduced the amount of arable land they controlled and contributed to a debt cycle which was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, socially disadvantaged communities have also seen higher rates of infections, hospitalizations, deaths, property loss and economic damage, officials said.
US Department of Agriculture officials have continued to implement the program since the lawsuit was filed.
Laura Schulte can be reached at leschulte@jrn.com and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.
This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Richter Suspends Biden Debt Relief Program for Colored Farmers

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