Gary Baise Commentaries

Black, Native American farmer organizations face court hurdle

Another federal district judge has blocked Secretary Vilsack and USDA from providing $4-5 billion in loan debt relief to minority farmers.

Any first-year law student could have looked at this program and said please do not do it, as it violates the Constitution.

We know that Judge William Griesbach has issued a restraining order in the FSA loan debt case, and the lawsuit drew national attention. Now the main street media is finally noticing.

Several lawsuits have been filed throughout the United States and so far, all of them have resulted in decisions against Secretary Vilsack and the USDA. The injunctions to date all prevent the USDA from paying off debt for “socially disadvantaged farmers” who have direct loans through the FSA or have guaranteed loans through private lenders.

As I have suggested in my other blogs, a temporary restraining order (TRO) suggests that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the case and are likely to suffer irreparable harm if preliminary relief is not granted.

Irreparable harm?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and USDA have argued that white farmers cannot show irreparable harm and that minority farmers have been disproportionately at risk of foreclosure. John Boyd Jr., President of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA), said he was “disappointed” that Secretary Vilsack and USDA did not send out payments to minority farmers before the courts’ rulings.

Most American farmers in the Midwest and the West are probably not familiar with the NBFA, but there is another association interested in the case - the Association of American Indian Farmers (AAIF). They are both formidable organizations and have filed a motion to intervene in the Florida action of Wynn v. Vilsack.

Virtually all news articles, even in the agricultural press, have focused on the Constitutional and legal losses suffered by USDA and Secretary Vilsack.  On June 15, 2021, both minority organizations filed a motion to intervene as defendants with a 13-page memorandum which supports the black farmers’ and Indian farmers’ leave to intervene as defendants and support Secretary Vilsack.

It is an enlightening document. It claims NBFA and the AAIF are membership-based organizations which advance interests of Black and Native American farmers. NBFA has a national membership, according to the filing, of over 116,000 members. AAIF has a national membership of approximately 350 members.

Debt relief advocates

NBFA President Boyd claims to have advocated for debt relief for decades, and there are several affidavits attached to the filing to support this assertion. The AAIF organization’s President, Kara Boyd, “…has specifically advocated on the act’s debt forgiveness provisions, directly engaging with federal legislators…”

This motion is for both these organizations to intervene in the litigation against USDA and Secretary Vilsack. There is a legal concept that suggests the DOJ and USDA properly represent the citizens’ interest when in court. It is clear that NBFA and AAIF do not fully trust the federal government to fully defend the organizations and their members.

The motion, along with the affidavits, numbers 267 pages. The motion for leave to intervene is only 13 pages. This motion which is not discussed by any column I have reviewed is worth reviewing and particularly the affidavits attached. I would assume the NBFA and AAIF will have their motion to intervene as defendants granted. The Constitution does not favor racial pieces of legislation, but the two national organizations have a story to tell which should be heard.