Carpenter v. Vilsak

Biden's America: White Farmers Need Not Apply

About the Case

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed by President Biden, Congress created a farm loan forgiveness program for non-white farmers. Under the program the U.S. Department of Agriculture automatically forgiving federal farm loans at 120 percent of the loan value, unless the farmer is white.  The federal government’s exclusion of white farmers is illegal and unconstitutional. That is why SLF and Mountain State Legal Foundation (MSLF) filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Leisl, a sixth-generation Tennessee farmer who is excluded from the program solely because of his skin color.

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The lawsuit challenges the provision in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that provides automatic loan forgiveness of up to 120 percent of the loan amount for farmers and ranchers, unless they are white. It also challenges the unconstitutional program’s exclusion of white farmers from re-applying for government-backed loans, making the Biden Administration’s “relief” package doubly unconstitutional.

SLF and MSLF filed the lawsuit in the District of Wyoming on behalf of Leisl Carpenter, a sixth-generation Wyoming rancher. Her family has been ranching in Wyoming’s Big Laramie Valley since they emigrated to the United States in 1862. Her grandmother homesteaded on the Ranch in 1894.

When her family risked losing Flying Farm Ranch to foreclosure, Ms. Carpenter decided to get a federal farm loan.Ms. Carpenter’s sole source of income comes from ranching. She runs the Ranch’s 2,400 acres, selling grass hay and running over 500 head of cattle.

Like many ranchers, the COVID-19 pandemic has financially impacted Ms. Carpenter and the Flying Heart Ranch. To help farmers and ranchers weather the pandemic, Congress decided that it was going to forgive federal farm loans – erasing the full amount of the loan and sending the forgiven debtor 20 percent of the loan’s value in cash to cover any resulting income tax liability.

But unlike other farmers and ranchers, Ms. Carpenter does not qualify for federal farm loan forgiveness because of the color of her skin.

Discriminating on the basis of race is illegal and unconstitutional. The federal government cannot grant specific benefits based solely on race, regardless of policy motivations. This is especially true here where Congress stated that the goal of the $4 billion challenged race-based loan forgiveness had nothing to do with financial strain caused by Covid-19 pandemic, but instead was enacted to end “systemic racism.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that the way to stop race-based discrimination is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. The federal government’s use of government-sponsored race discrimination as a tool to end “systemic racism” is patently unconstitutional.

Case Status

Active Litigation

Court

District Court of Wyoming

Why This Matters

When the government treats people differently because of the color of their skin, it engages in illegal and unconstitutional state-sanctioned discrimination.  And that is exactly what Congress and the USDA have done here when they excluded white farmers and ranchers from the loan forgiveness program.

“In this case, a farmer is excluded from government benefits because of his race. Under the U.S. Constitution, the government has violated Ms. Carpenter’s equal protection rights,” said Kimberly Hermann, SLF General Counsel. “Supreme Court decisions over the past sixty years in multiple contexts demonstrate the positive movement toward the constitutional goal of color-blind racial equality by repeatedly throwing out government-sponsored benefits programs based solely on race.”

“The COVID relief farm loan program is doubly unconstitutional,” added Braden Boucek, SLF Litigation Director. “The law provides 120 percent relief from the federal government for non-white farmers on existing loans, and specifically excludes white farmers from the same benefit. The USDA has also stated that the law also allows non-white farmers to re-apply for new loans through the federal program, while specifically excluding white farmers.”

Why This Matters

When the government treats people differently because of the color of their skin, it engages in illegal and unconstitutional state-sanctioned discrimination.  And that is exactly what Congress and the USDA have done here when they excluded white farmers and ranchers from the loan forgiveness program.

“In this case, a farmer is excluded from government benefits because of his race. Under the U.S. Constitution, the government has violated Ms. Carpenter’s equal protection rights,” said Kimberly Hermann, SLF General Counsel. “Supreme Court decisions over the past sixty years in multiple contexts demonstrate the positive movement toward the constitutional goal of color-blind racial equality by repeatedly throwing out government-sponsored benefits programs based solely on race.”

“The COVID relief farm loan program is doubly unconstitutional,” added Braden Boucek, SLF Litigation Director. “The law provides 120 percent relief from the federal government for non-white farmers on existing loans, and specifically excludes white farmers from the same benefit. The USDA has also stated that the law also allows non-white farmers to re-apply for new loans through the federal program, while specifically excluding white farmers.”

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