Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) authorizes the USDA to pay up to 120 percent of certain eligible loans balances to “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” (SDFR). SDFR includes producers who are a member of socially disadvantaged groups such as “Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander.” See 7 U.S.C. § 2279(a)(6).

A white farmer, who did not qualify for the SDFR designation, filed a class action lawsuit against the USDA claiming that the law violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the U.S. Constitution. The district court certified the class and granted a preliminary injunction to enjoin the Secretary from administering § 1005. An advocate organization “of Black farmers, landowners, and cooperatives” filed a motion to intervene. The district court denied the motion and the advocate organization appealed. Miller v. Vilsack, 2021 WL 6129207 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 8, 2021).

To prevail on a motion to intervene as a matter of right, the applicant must show that their interest is inadequately represented by the existing parties to the suit. Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a)(2). In this case, the court considered whether the advocate organization demonstrated that its interest diverged from the USDA’s “in a manner germane to the case.” See Texas v. U.S., 805 F.3d 653, 662 (5th Cir. 2015).

The court found that the two parties’ interests clearly diverged. Both the advocate organization and the USDA seek to uphold the constitutionality of § 1005. However, the advocate organization argued that the USDA continues to discriminate against minority farmers while the USDA argues that past USDA discrimination still has a lingering effect. Additionally, the advocate organization’s interest was germane to the case. Race-based governmental actions must be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest. Here, evidence of continued discrimination may be crucial to proving a compelling government interest. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of intervention.

Miller v. Vilsack, 2022 WL 851782 (5th Cir. March 22, 2022).