Black farmers who endured decades of discrimination by USDA receive favorable court ruling
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(Washington, DC) – Black farmers can now defend the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) debt relief program after the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed a district court ruling denying them the right to intervene in the Miller v. Vilsack lawsuit, currently pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Tuesday.
After decades of longstanding racial discrimination in the administration of USDA loan programs, Congress attempted to right historic wrongs with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act which provided $4 billion in debt relief for black farmers. Before the funds could be released, white farmers in Texas sued the USDA to block the disbursement of the funds, alleging that the loan forgiveness payments violate the US Constitution. The court issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily halted the program, pushing many black farmers to the brink of foreclosure.
Black farmers risk losing their farms, land and livelihoods without loan forgiveness according to Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Council, and pro bono attorney Winston & Strawn LLP representing the Southern Cooperative Federation/Land Assistance Fund. The groups plan to vigorously advocate for the program to enable black farmers to get relief.
“This is a critical decision,” advised Dania Davy, director of land conservation and advocacy at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. “Since these lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Section 1005 of the U.S. bailout were filed, this appeals court has been the first to seriously consider the devastating impact of the delayed implementation of the debt relief package. debt on our farmer-members. By guaranteeing the Federation’s right to intervene, the Court has ensured that the persistent racial discrimination that our farmer-members continue to face can be brought into evidence in the litigation, which will significantly strengthen the defense of constitutionality. of this program.
“For decades, the USDA has discriminated against black farmers by denying them loans, disrupting their livelihoods, and preventing them from building generational wealth,” said Dorian Spence, director of special litigation and advocacy for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Black farmers have a right to defend the debt relief program and we’re glad the Fifth Circuit agrees.”
“We are very pleased that the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the trial court,” said André Tauberthe Winston & Strawn LLP appeals and critical motions partner who argued the case in the Fifth Circuit. “We are grateful for the opportunity to continue our advocacy on behalf of the Federation and its members as we fight to uphold the constitutionality of the debt relief program.”
“This case is about the future of black agriculture in America: Black farmers once owned 14% of all farms in the country. Today they own just over 1%, in part because of discrimination they continue to suffer,” said Nisha Kashyap. , a staff lawyer with the Public Counsel’s Consumer Rights & Economic Justice Project. “The experiences of black farmers are integral to the defense of this vital debt relief program. We look forward to the opportunity to present this crucial evidence and make our customers’ voices heard. »
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