Wyoming: Today Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) and Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging unconstitutional race discrimination in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s farmer and rancher loan forgiveness program. The challenged provision in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides automatic loan forgiveness of up to 120 percent of the loan amount for farmers and ranchers, unless they are white.
USDA has also stated that the law allows non-white farmers to re-apply for new loans through the federal program, while specifically excluding white farmers.
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 Big Laramie Valley since they emigrated to the United States in 1862.
Ms. Carpenter’s sole source of income comes from ranching. She runs the Ranch’s 2,400 acres, selling grass hay and running 500 plus 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 ranchers, Ms. Carpenter does not qualify for 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.
“In this case, a rancher is excluded from government benefits because of her 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. To make matters worse, the USDA plans to exclude farmers who happen to be white from re-applying for government-backed loans.”