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MSLF continues post-COVID-19 ag loan litigation

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In March 2021, the Biden administration signed into action the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within this legislation, $4 billion was slated to forgive loans for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  

The Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), along with the Southeastern Legal Foundation, have worked together to bring light to what they call a “violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection,” provided by the Fifth Amendment.  

According to MSLF, preliminary rulings suggest claims of equal protection rights violations have sufficient merit to halt controversial payouts of loans held by socially disadvantaged groups.  

Current cases 

In Holman v. Vilsack, the government requested a stay and on Aug. 2, the judge on the case denied the request. MSLF shares this action means the case may move forward.  

Robert Holman, a Tennessee farmer, filed against Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux, seeking a declaratory judgment that the loan forgiveness program provided to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers under ARPA violates the Equal Protection Clause and is seeking to enjoin the program.  

The order granting motion for preliminary injunction stated, “Farmers, such as the plaintiff, who have U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans and who are white/Caucasian are not considered to be socially disadvantaged and, thus, are not eligible for debt relief regardless of their individual circumstances.”  

“The government has not disputed that the plaintiff, as the holder of two USDA direct farm loans, would be eligible for debt relief if he was a member of one of the specified racial classifications,” the injunction continued.  

Another case, Leisl Carpenter v. Tom Vilsack and Zach Ducheneaux was introduced as the USDA considers Carpenter, a Wyoming rancher, to be socially disadvantaged in some respects regarding the loan status, but not under ARPA.  

The complaint reads, “Because she has no job other than ranching, her entire family’s income stems from the ranch. Although she meets the definition of “socially disadvantaged” for some purposes related to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, she is not covered by the American Resuce Plan Act. On the other hand, if she were a different race – regardless of whether she was affected by COVID-19 or in fact needed loan forgiveness – the federal government would automatically forgive her loan.”  

MSLF shares the administration is looking at a similar bid to stay Leisl Carpenter v. Tom Vilsack and Zach Ducheneaux.  

MSLF comment 

“When it comes to race discrimination, justice can’t wait,” said MSLF General Counsel William E. Trachman in a MSLF press release. “The government hoped it could put our equal protection rights on ice by trying to pause this case for what would have been years on end, and we’re pleased to see the federal government’s attempt to halt this case completely rejected by the judge.”  

He continued, “It’s time for the government to end its efforts to resegregate us by race, and we look forward to litigating this case to its conclusion.”  

Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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