A federal judge in Florida temporarily halted the White House’s $4 billion debt relief program that targeted farmers on the basis of race, saying Wednesday that it was discriminatory.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard ruled in favor of Florida-based farmer Scott Wynn, who is white, and who filed a lawsuit to block the program in May. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented the program as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that sought to distribute funding to “socially disadvantaged farmers.”
The rule’s “rigid, categorical, race-based qualification for relief is the antithesis of flexibility,” Howard wrote (pdf) Wednesday.
“The debt relief provision applies strictly on racial grounds irrespective of any other factor.”
The USDA program could continue to provide funds in the meantime as the court attempts to determine what provisions should be considered unconstitutional, the judge said. Howard also noted that some minority farmers have faced hurdles in the past but said that the current policy is discriminatory against white farmers.
“It is undeniable—and notably uncontested by the parties—that U.S.D.A. had a dark history of past discrimination against minority farmers,” the judge ruled.
“It appears that in enacting Section 1005, Congress relies, albeit without any ill intention, on present discrimination to remedy past discrimination,” she wrote.
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