Judge Halts Disaster Aid Program for Minority and Women Farmers

‘Race-based classifications are presumptively unconstitutional,’ the federal judge wrote in striking down the US Department of Agriculture’s policy.
Judge Halts Disaster Aid Program for Minority and Women Farmers
The U.S. Department of Agriculture building in Washington on July 21, 2007. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Jack Phillips

A federal judge blocked a portion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) program that assists women and minority farmers with disaster relief.

In a preliminary injunction against the USDA on June 7, Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas wrote that a group of white farmers are likely to succeed in their lawsuit against the federal agriculture agency.

The farmers argue that the policy discriminates against white male farmers and violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

The USDA, the judge wrote, cannot provide disaster relief to farmers based on the agency’s “socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher” designation, which distributes a greater share of federal relief money to non-white, male farmers.

The farmers have said that they were denied USDA relief funding when they applied because of their sex or race.

“Plaintiffs have applied for almost every USDA disaster-relief program and, in some cases, received multiple payments under those programs,” he wrote in Rusty Strickland, et al. v. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Because Plaintiffs budget for disaster relief under these programs and claim to suffer excess losses under the USDA’s ’socially disadvantaged' designation, they will apply for any remaining available funding.”

Race-based and sex-based government classifications go against the Fifth Amendment, he added, unless they are narrow in scope and can serve the government’s interest.

“Race-based classifications are presumptively unconstitutional,” the judge declared, adding that the USDA has to be able first to “demonstrate that favoring one race over another is used to ‘further compelling government interests.’”

The agency also must show that the policy is “necessary” to “achieve that interest,” he continued.

What’s more, the USDA rules sometimes provide more relief to minorities and women without showing whether or not it’s actually needed, Judge Kacsmaryk wrote in his order. He added that the policy also will “deny additional aid to farmers not of the USDA’s preferred races who are in danger of financial ruin.”

According to rules published in the Federal Register, the policy provides relief from crop and livestock disasters as well as income loss incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. It defines “socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers” as those who are black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Native American, Alaskan Native, Asian, or women.
In a motion opposing the farmers’ lawsuit filed last month, the Department of Justice’s Civil Division wrote that Congress has given the “USDA wide discretion to structure its pandemic and disaster relief programs—and the race-neutral and sex-neutral choices that USDA has made about how to allocate limited funding are fully consistent with that authorization and raise no legal concerns.”

“Simply put, neither the Constitution nor the Administrative Procedure Act provides a basis to second-guess USDA’s reasoned response to a severe shortfall in Congressional appropriations,” the brief said, adding that the lawsuit “would be enormously disruptive to USDA, inhibiting its ability to provide needed relief” to farmers.

The injunction by Judge Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, is the latest legal move against government diversity rules and programs that prioritize women and minorities. A Texas judge in March ordered the U.S. Minority Business Development Agency to assist all races, and a judge last year ruled that a Small Business Association program must do the same.

Those rulings were made after the U.S. Supreme Court last June rejected race-based admissions programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. This effectively prohibited affirmative action policies that had been used for decades in colleges across the United States.

In a majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the two colleges’ programs “cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause” of the Constitution.

The Epoch Times contacted the USDA and the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which is representing the white farmers in the lawsuit, for comment on June 11. The federal agency has not publicly commented on the judge’s ruling.

“America’s farmers have been mistreated by this administration for years now with one discriminatory scheme after another,” Braden Boucek, vice president of litigation at the Southeastern Legal Foundation, told multiple news outlets after the ruling.

“This ruling is a win for equality across the country, and we are proud to stand beside these farmers in holding the government accountable.”

The Southeastern Legal Foundation, Mountain States Legal Foundation, and Tormey & McConnell Attorneys represent the farmers.

Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter with 15 years experience who started as a local New York City reporter. Having joined The Epoch Times' news team in 2009, Jack was born and raised near Modesto in California's Central Valley. Follow him on X: https://twitter.com/jackphillips5