Tuesday, December 5, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Ag Commissioner Claims Covid Aid Discriminates Against White Farmers, Ranchers

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller sued the Biden administration Monday, claiming Covid-19 aid for minority “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers discriminates against white people.

FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller sued the Biden administration Monday, claiming Covid-19 aid for minority “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers discriminates against white people.

Miller filed a proposed class action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, seeking a declaration that the federal Agriculture Department’s "racial exclusions" violate the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“These racial exclusions are patently unconstitutional, and the court should permanently enjoin their enforcement,” the 11-page complaint states. “Doing so will promote equal rights under the law for all American citizens and promote efforts to stop racial discrimination, because ‘[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.’”

The lawsuit says the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congress last month includes provisions for the forgiveness of loans to “socially disadvantaged” farmers or ranchers of up to 120% of the value of the loan. It claims other federal laws limit help for white farmers and ranchers, including the Agriculture Department being required to give preference to grant applications filed by “socially disadvantaged” farmers or ranchers.

Miller says the Agriculture Department has adopted a general definition of “socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher” to include Blacks, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, Asians, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders. He says this definition is wrong and that it “departs from the plain statutory text by failing to include white ethnic groups that have unquestionably suffered” prejudice because of their ethnicity.

“Indeed, throughout American history, many white ethnic groups have been subject to ‘racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities,’ including Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews and eastern Europeans,” the complaint states. “Members of these ethnic groups unambiguously qualify as members of a ‘socially disadvantaged group,’ and as ‘socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers,’ under the plain text ... ’”

If the trial court declines to declare the Agriculture Department’s interpretation as unconstitutional, Miller’s lawsuit seeks alternative declarations that “socially disadvantaged” should be interpreted as including white ethnic groups who have suffered past discrimination or interpreted to include people “who have any discernable trace” of non-white ancestry.

“An interpretation of the underlying statutes that excludes plaintiffs like Miller because he is not ‘black enough’ would raise grave constitutional concerns under Bolling v. Sharpe and it should be rejected for that reason alone,” the complaint states. “For the same reason, the statutes should not be construed to empower the Department of Agriculture to choose a minimum threshold of minority ancestry when determining eligibility for benefits.”

The Agriculture Department declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday morning, referring questions to the Justice Department.

Miller is a Republican from Stephenville serving his second term in office after he was first elected in 2014. He previously served in the Texas House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013. The lawsuit states Miller is suing “in his capacity as a private citizen” and not in his official capacity.

The agriculture commissioner was an early and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. He has received repeated criticism for posting unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and controversial statements on social media, including the posting of a tweet that referred to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as a “cunt.” Miller first blamed a hacker for the incident, before blaming a staffer and apologizing. The tweet resulted in Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott publicly stating the matter was an “embarrassment” to Texas and “reprehensible.”

Miller was criticized last year for posting on Facebook that billionaire George Soros funded the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

He is represented by Jonathan Mitchell in Austin and Gene Hamilton with the American First Legal Foundation in Washington. The foundation is headed by former White House adviser and immigration opponent Stephen Miller, who has no known relation to the plaintiff.

Monday’s lawsuit comes four days after the foundation also sued the Biden administration on behalf of Texas Republicans for refusing to expel unaccompanied, migrant Central American children under the Trump administration’s Title 42, resulting in overcrowding at federal holding facilities at the border with Mexico.

Follow @davejourno
Categories / Government, Law

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.