Matthew and Joshua Morton are brothers and full-time farmers in Kell, Illinois. Like many Southern Illinois farmers, they grow soybeans, wheat, and corn on their farm. And like many farmers across the country, they have federal farm loans with an outstanding balance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted the brothers a $146,000 loan in 2020 to help finance their farming operations. Today, they still owe more than $140,000—an amount that drains a significant portion of their income and, in an industry with low-profit margins during normal times, led to economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At first encouraged about a farm loan forgiveness provision in Congress’ recent COVID-19 legislation, Matthew and Joshua were surprised to learn they’re not eligible—because they’re white.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides loan forgiveness up to 120% of USDA loan amounts only for minority farmers and ranchers. That is, the government is using racial classifications to decide who deserves relief from COVID-19’s economic devastation.
The blanket exclusion of white farmers from debt relief purportedly aims to address past discrimination against minority farmers and ranchers by the USDA. These historical wrongs have been previously addressed through administrative and class action settlements. Now, the government is trying to combat racial discrimination by mandating more of it.
The Morton brothers simply want to be treated on the basis of their individual qualities. Yet the only reason the Mortons will not receive loan forgiveness is their membership in a racial group—despite the fact, as the Supreme Court has stated many times, racial preferences violate the fundamental constitutional principle of equality before the law.
Matthew and Joshua fought back with a federal lawsuit challenging the American Rescue Plan’s unlawful race-based farm loan forgiveness provision.
On August 30, 2022, they voluntarily dismissed their case after Congress repealed the race-based program and replaced it with a race-neutral debt relief policy as part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.