WILL Sues Biden Administration for Race Discrimination in Farmer Loan Forgiveness Program

Published on: April 29, 2021

A dozen plaintiffs from nine states would be eligible for federal program, but for their race

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the unconstitutional race discrimination in the American Rescue Plan’s provision to offer loan forgiveness based on racial categories. WILL filed the lawsuit in the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of twelve farmers and ranchers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon, and Kentucky. Each plaintiff would be eligible for the federal loan forgiveness program, but for their race.

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The Quotes: WILL President and General Counsel, Rick Esenberg, said, “Conditioning benefits from the federal government on the basis of race is unconstitutional. WILL is committed to ensuring that the current threats to the bedrock principle of equality under the law, something that many generations have worked tirelessly to achieve, are challenged and fought.”

Adam Faust, a WILL client from Calumet County, Wisconsin, said, “There should absolutely be no federal dollars going anywhere just based on race. The economic impact from COVID-19 didn’t hurt any race more than another as far as agriculture goes.”

“There is a case for loan forgiveness for individuals,” said Christopher Baird, a WILL client from Crawford County, Wisconsin. “But we shouldn’t be looking at the color of someone’s skin and saying this person needs more help or less help based on the color of their skin. That’s just wrong.”

Adam Faust, Plaintiff

Background: The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), President Joe Biden’s signature COVID-19 relief legislation signed in March, provides billions of dollars of debt relief to “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers. But the law’s definition of “socially disadvantaged” includes explicit racial classifications: farmers and ranchers must be Black or African American, American Indian or Alaskan native, Hispanic or Latino, or Asian American or Pacific Islander. Other farmers—white farmers, for example—are ineligible.

This is illegal and unconstitutional. The United States Constitution “forbids” discrimination by the federal government “against any citizen because of his race.” For the federal government to distribute “benefits on the basis of individual racial classifications,” the government must prove that its discriminatory benefit is narrowly tailored and serves a compelling government interest.

In this case, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) describe their generalized goal of ending “systemic racism.” But such broad goals do not override the constitutional ban on race discrimination. In fact, the Supreme Court has “rejected the interest in remedying societal discrimination because it had no logical stopping point.” WILL is asking the court to issue an injunction and a declaratory judgment that the racial classifications in the American Rescue Plan Act’s farmer loan forgiveness program are unconstitutional.

Christopher Baird, Plaintiff

WILL’s Clients: WILL represents twelve farmers from nine states who would be eligible for the federal government’s loan forgiveness program, but for their race.

  • Adam P. Faust owns a dairy farm in Calumet County, near Chilton, Wisconsin. Mr. Faust is a double-amputee. In addition to milking about 70 Holstein cows, Mr. Faust farms 200 acres for feed for his cows.
  • Christopher C. Baird owns a dairy farm near Ferryville in Crawford County, Wisconsin. Just ten miles from the Mississippi River, Mr. Baird milks over 50 Jersey cows and farms approximately 80 acres of pasture.
  • Jonathan P. Stevens owns Maple Grove Farms near Rock Creek, Minnesota. Mr. Stevens raises about 25 beef cattle and grows corn, soybeans, and other crops on about 700 acres.
  • Jay T. Slaba raises about 350 head of beef cattle and farms about 1,000 acres of corn and other crops in northwest South Dakota.
  • Joseph W. Schmitz farms approximately 50 acres of corn and soybeans in western Ohio.

Clients Added to the Lawsuit:

  • James C. and Cheryl J. Ash own and operate Hog Heaven Farms near Jasper, Missouri. The Ashes raise about 600 sows and ween up to 1,000 piglets every 28 days.
  • Christopher D. Bohnenkamp grows corn and soybeans in northwestern Iowa. Mr. Bohnenkamp also owns and operates a feeder-to-finish swine operation, where he feeds up to 2,400 hogs every three months.
  • Lori L. Watkins raises chickens, cattle, sheep, and goats on a 100-acre farm in southwestern Arkansas. Ms. Watkins’ primary business is raising and selling about 500,000 broiler chickens each year.
  • Teena J. and Brandon D. Banducci are ranchers from northeast Oregon. They raise about 100 cattle on approximately 1,000 acres.
  • Theodore (“Ted”) G. Shields, Jr. is a fourth-generation tobacco farmer from central Kentucky. Mr. Shields farms approximately 700 acres. In addition to burley tobacco, Mr. Shields farms corn and soybeans and raises about 80 head of cattle.

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