In March 2021, the Biden administration signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) COVID-19 stimulus plan, providing $4 billion to forgive loans for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. But white farmers and ranchers are excluded in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection, which is secured under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Our client, Wyoming rancher Leisl Carpenter, has struggled to keep her family ranch afloat during the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, even though she faces serious financial challenges, she is ineligible to even apply for Biden’s loan forgiveness program solely due to her race. Mountain States Legal Foundation and Southeastern Legal Foundation have teamed up to sue the federal government to stop the Biden administration’s unconstitutional discrimination against Ms. Carpenter and other farmers and ranchers who, like her, have been denied the financial aid offered to others simply because of the color of their skin.
Leisl Carpenter is a proud, sixth-generation rancher in Wyoming’s Big Laramie Valley. It’s a family operation. Her maternal grandmother’s family originally homesteaded on the land in 1894. Unlike many family ranches, Ms. Carpenter’s family ranch has been passed down mostly to daughters rather than sons. She’s proud to follow in a long line of women who work the land.
She and her family raise cattle on their 2,400-acre Flying Heart Ranch. It’s the sole source of her income. They currently run over 500 head of cattle. But drought conditions in recent years have put a strain on the number of cattle the land can support. To make matters worse, the land they lease for grazing was burned in a devastating fire. She may have to sell off some of the herd just to stay afloat.
To avoid foreclosure and save her family’s ranch when she was 20 years old, Ms. Carpenter decided to take out an FSA loan from the federal government. Ranchers like Ms. Carpenter serve a critical role in our nation’s food supply chain. As was the case with many ranchers, the COVID-19 pandemic added to the financial difficulties Ms. Carpenter faces as she works to provide for her young son and keep the family ranch going
When the Biden administration passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, it included a loan forgiveness program for ranchers. This might have been just the lifeline that Ms. Carpenter and her family needed during this unprecedented pandemic season. But there was only one problem—the loan forgiveness program that Biden signed into law excludes all ranchers who happen to be white.
The U.S. Constitution generally forbids discrimination by the federal government against any citizen because of their race. Any racial classification must meet strict scrutiny, or in other words, must be narrowly tailored to achieving a compelling government interest. Excluding white farmers and ranchers—particularly women like Ms. Carpenter—meets neither condition. It’s just plain, ugly racial discrimination.
Making skin color the basis of a government benefit is not only unconstitutional, it is also morally wrong. One simply cannot achieve racial justice by means of racial discrimination.
During the pandemic, our national supply chain was disrupted. Many Americans experienced what it is like to who up at the grocery store and find the shelf bare for the very first time. It’s clear that ranchers and farmers serve a vital national interest. However, when the government decides to provide loan forgiveness to farmers and ranchers due to their critical role in putting food on America’s tables, it must offer it to all farmers and ranchers, regardless of their skin color.
To correct this injustice, Mountain States Legal Foundation is suing the federal government to stop its unconstitutional discrimination against Ms. Carpenter and other white farmers and ranchers.
MSLF – 2021