On March 11, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) into law. ARPA was meant to enable American citizens to respond to and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Section 1005 of ARPA provided funding and authorized the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) to pay up to 120 percent of direct and guaranteed loan outstanding balances as of January 1, 2021, for certain loans of socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. A socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher as someone who is a member of a socially disadvantaged group, which is further defined as a group whose members have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities. Members of socially disadvantaged groups include, but are not limited to:
American Indians or Alaskan Natives;
Blacks or African Americans;
Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders; and
Hispanics or Latinos.
Following the enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), as the USDA began to implement the loan forgiveness programs, several lawsuits were filed in federal courts alleging the race- or sex-conscious relief authorized in ARPA was unconstitutional. The lawsuits specifically challenged the USDA's loan forgiveness program. Among other requested relief, the plaintiffs sought injunctions to halt the implementation of the program. Several of the federal courts granted motions to temporarily stop USDA from implementing the ARPA programs.
The most prominent lawsuit challenging the American Rescue Plan Act was filed by Sid Miller, the 12th Texas Commissioner of Agriculture and "an eighth-generation white farmer and rancher from Texas." Miller filed a class action complaint, in his individual capacity, on April 26, 2021 challenging Sections 1005 and 1006 of ARPA in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The sole defendant was the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, Thomas James Vilsack. Miller challenged the United States Department of Agriculture's classification of "socially disadvantaged groups." He alleged the loan forgiveness programs enacted for the benefit of "socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers" during the COVID-19 pandemic failed to "include white ethnic groups that had unquestionably suffered ethnic prejudice." Also, he claimed the USDA's "racial exclusions" violated the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, he asserted that the phrase "socially disadvantaged group" must be interpreted to include any individuals who have "any discernible trace of minority ancestry."
The case was assigned to District Judge Reed C. O'Connor. On July 1, 2021, the court certified the class action lawsuit and granted a preliminary injunction. After various legal maneuvers by all parties to the litigation but before the lawsuit was resolved, President Biden repealed Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act in the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Thus, on August 29, 2022, Sid Miller and Secretary Vilsack and all intervenors to the lawsuit, filed a joint stipulation of dismissal without prejudice and agreed that the constitutional challenge to Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act was moot and the case was dismissed pursuant to the stipulation. Subsequently, all the other lawsuits that had been filed were rendered moot as well.