Opinion: USDA 'capitulates' to Indian farmers in $760M settlement
"The outcome could have been predicted. A corporation or government agency, having knuckled under to a group of "civil rights" activists and their lawyers, renders itself an easy target for copycat shakedowns. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for over a decade has epitomized such capitulation. And once again it has come through. On October 19 the department announced a settlement of a longstanding lawsuit in which thousands of American Indian farmers and ranchers claimed discrimination by USDA credit program administrators. The $760 million agreement, which gained preliminary court approval yesterday, follows the agency's capitulation earlier this year in separate lawsuits filed by black and Hispanic farmers. Taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

The case at hand is known as Keepseagle v. Vilsack. Brought forth over a decade ago by a married couple and joined by nearly 900 Native American farmers and ranchers - the number eventually would expand further - the suit claimed that USDA during 1981-99 denied credit to Indians based on their ancestry. As a result, unsuccessful applicants, unable to pay off debts, often lost part or all of their land. The nominal defendant, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, true to form, was contrite without getting specific: "Today's settlement can never undo wrongs that Native Americans may have experienced in past decades, but combined with the actions we at USDA are taking to address such wrongs, the settlement will provide some measure of relief to those alleging discrimination. The Obama administration is committed to closing the chapter on an unfortunate civil rights history at USDA and working to ensure our customers and employees are treated justly and equally." President Obama likewise called the resolution "an important step forward in remedying USDA's unfortunate civil rights history."

That's the official story. Upon closer inspection, this lawsuit, like similar ones filed by black, Hispanic and female farmers, merits far less sympathy than headlines would suggest. It rests on the implicit assumption that a mere claim of racial or sexual discrimination suffices as proof. Yet the plaintiffs, here as elsewhere, introduced no hard evidence that a whole class of persons had been singled out for denial of credit. Apparently, the plaintiffs reasoned, if blacks could get a piece of the action, so should Indians. This is an extension of the mentality that low rates of residential mortgage approval must be due to lender prejudice, not borrower creditworthiness."

Get the Story:
Carl Horowitz: USDA Capitulates to Native American Farmers; Settles for $760 Million (The National Legal and Policy Center 11/2)

Relevant Documents:
Plaintiffs Press Release | Settlement | Notice Form A | Notice Form B
Damages Award | Loan Debt Relief
Native American Farmers and Ranchers Council | Named Plaintiffs
President Obama Statement | USDA Press Release

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