The U.S. Department of Justice has opted not to file an appeal in federal court over an order blocking reparations for Black farmers and farmers of color. The reparations program was built into President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill to counter generations of systemic racism against Black farmers.
Black farmers have been suing the federal government for decades over claims of continuing discrimination in Department of Agriculture programs. Simultaneously, their numbers have been dwindling. In 1920, the USDA counted 925,708 Black farmers, or about 14 percent of all farmers at the time. By 2017, there were 45,508 Black farmers — roughly 1.3 percent of all 3.4 million U.S. farmers, according to a recent USDA Census of Agriculture.
Aug. 23 was the deadline for the DOJ to file an appeal, 60 days after federal judges ruled that the $4 billion reparations program, which would forgive the debts of exclusively non-white farmers, was unconstitutional and hence could not be implemented, Tennesse Star reported.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spokesperson confirmed that the DOJ did not plan to move through the federal court system at this time. Instead, it plans to defend the policy within the trial court level against plaintiffs who are directly suing the government over what they allege to be a discriminatory and anti-white policy, according to the USDA.
Currently, there are 12 lawsuits filed against the government regarding the reparations policy.
“The United States government will continue to fight these lawsuits in the district courts in the weeks and months ahead,” a USDA spokesperson told Politico, “because providing debt relief is an important component of USDA’s broader commitment to taking bold, historic action to rout out generations of systemic racism.”
According to one legal expert, the DOJ’s forgoing the appeal and preferring to move ahead with district court litigation “might be driven in part by a desire not to trigger a law that requires the Justice Department to formally notify Congress whenever the department chooses not to defend a statute,” Politico reported.
“I think they’re trying to carve out this space,” said Neal Devins, a professor of law and government at William & Mary Law School. “It’s one thing to have Obama writing Congress not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, but Biden writing Congress not to defend this statute doesn’t work quite as well.”
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Black farmers who support the race-based policy voiced their frustration with the Biden administration’s decision to not appeal the rulings.
John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, told the Tennessee Star he “was sure hoping they would appeal,” and described the decision not to appeal as “a formula for failure.”