Newswire: Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allows Federation to intervene in lawsuit filed by white farmers to block USDA $4 billion debt relief program for BIPOC farmers

East Point, GA — The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (“Federation”) is pleased to announce that on March 22, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously ruled to allow the Federation to intervene in the Miller v. Vilsack class action lawsuit currently pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

The Miller vs. Vilsack case is a consolidated class action lawsuit by white farmers to stop the Secretary of Agriculture from implementing Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan which provided $4 billion of loan relief to “socially disadvantaged applicants” most of whom were Black, Indigenous and Other People of Color (BIPOC) farmers.

The lower Court had denied the Federation’s Motion to Intervene. The Federation, represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Public Counsel and Winston-Strawn LLP, appealed the decision and the Appellate panel of Judges agreed with the Federation’s right to intervene in the matter.

Judges Southwick, Haynes, and Higginson wrote that the Federation’s interests are relevant to the case since any evidence of on-going or current race-based discrimination by USDA could be relevant to proving a “compelling governmental interest” in implementing the debt relief program. As a result, the lower Court’s denial of the Federation’s Motion to Intervene was overturned and returned to Judge O’Connor to allow the Federation to intervene as a party to the class action litigation.

Executive Director Cornelius Blanding was encouraged by the Court’s ruling stating, “The USDA’s Administration, under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, has consistently expressed a commitment to racial equity. Working together as co-defendants of the constitutionality of the debt relief program will strengthen our shared goal of seeing the program fully implemented as originally announced.”

The case will be sent back to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas to allow the Federation to formally enter the litigation as co-defendants with the USDA.

“This is a critical decision,” advised Dania Davy, Director of Land Retention and Advocacy, “For the first time since these lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan started to be filed, this Appellate Court was the first to seriously consider the devastating impact of the delayed implementation of the debt relief program on our member-farmers. By guaranteeing the Federation’s right to intervene, the Court ensured that the on-going, race-based discrimination our member-farmers continue to face can be entered as evidence in the litigation which will significantly strengthen the defense of this program’s constitutionality.”

The Department of Justice, on behalf of Secretary Vilsack, has continued its defense of the debt relief program and filed its Motion for Summary Judgement asking the Judge to allow the program to be implemented without a lengthy trial.

The Federation will not only continue to defend the Emergency Debt Relief for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers through this litigation, but will also continue to work with the USDA, the Federation’s legal counsel, partners, and coalitions to protect our member-farmers who should have received this debt relief last year from the looming threat of foreclosure and land loss.

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