Authored by Matthew Vadum via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
A Minnesota farmer is suing the state over an agricultural grant program that discriminates on the basis of race and sex.
The program, called the Down Payment Assistance Grant Program, provides up to $15,000 in funding to help “emerging” farmers purchase farmland. It is administered by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Rural Finance Authority.
Applicants must be Minnesota residents who have never owned a farm, earn less than $250,000 annually in gross agricultural sales, will farm the land for at least five years, and who will provide most of the labor and management of the farm.
According to the department, to be eligible, applicants must be women, veterans, disabled, American Indian or Alaskan Native, 35 or younger, urban, “members of a community of color,” individuals who are “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual (LGBTQIA+),” or “any other emerging farmers as determined by the commissioner.”
The plaintiff, Lance Nistler of Kelliher, Minnesota, is a white man who wants to purchase 40 acres of farmland in Beltrami County, Minnesota, for growing soybeans, oats, and wheat. He currently works on his relatives’ farm.
He complied with all eligibility requirements when he sought the grant. Out of 176 applicants, Lance was selected ninth in the grant lottery, but he was placed at the end of the list. Unknown to him at the time, the program put a premium on “emerging” farmers—as the department defines them—when awarding funds, regardless of lottery results, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF). The foundation, a Sacramento, California-based national public interest law firm that fights government abuses, is representing Mr. Nistler.
The state prioritizes grants to these emerging farmers, and any funding that remains may be awarded to non-emerging farmer applicants in the order of their lottery placement.
The legal complaint (pdf) in Nistler v. Walz was filed on Jan. 24 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
The defendants are Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) and Thom Peterson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Both men are being sued in their official capacities.
PLF attorney Andrew Quinio weighed in on the case.
“Minnesota believes Lance Nistler is less deserving of a farm because he has the wrong skin color and sex.
“It is unfair for the government to advantage or disadvantage anyone for benefits based on immutable characteristics like race and sex. Lance Nistler seeks to be treated equally with any other prospective farmer,” the lawyer said.
In an interview, Mr. Quinio said, “this is an egregious case of discrimination against a hard-working farmer who wanted the opportunity to buy his own farm through this down payment assistance grant.
“I think what makes this so egregious is the grant was within my client’s reach. Mr. Nistler was the ninth applicant drawn in the lottery. And then, because of the discriminatory criteria that the state implemented, basically rigging the system against him, his application was reshuffled to the back of the line because he’s not an emerging farmer … that is a racial minority, LGBTQ, [or] a woman farmer.”
He said the program, according to media outlets, was created “to address past discrimination,” but applicants “were never asked if they’ve been discriminated against in the past.”
“So we don’t know if anyone who’s actually been discriminated against has gotten grant funds,” he told The Epoch Times.
“The state’s just stereotyping people based on their skin color. And so they assume, because Mr. Nistler is a white male, that he’s less deserving of this grant money,” he said.
Mr. Quinio said he was optimistic about the lawsuit’s chances.
The grant program violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he said.
“The state just does not have a compelling interest to use race, nor does it have an exceedingly persuasive justification to use sex or gender. And I think that the case will bear that out,” he said.
The attorney was referring to the strict scrutiny test that courts use when reviewing legislative or executive branch enactments that have a bearing on constitutional rights. A government interest is deemed compelling when it is essential or necessary, as opposed to a matter of preference, choice, or discretion.
“I think we have a very good chance of prevailing given the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer in Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard,” Mr. Quinio said.
The Harvard case concerned the use of racially discriminatory admissions policies in the nation’s colleges.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that for too long, universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin.”
“Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice,” he wrote. Harvard’s admissions programs “cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause.”
Mr. Quinio said the Supreme Court’s decision “could not be any clearer,” and Mr. Nistler’s case is “a clear case of discrimination.”
“Whether it is college admissions or grants for farmers, the government cannot discriminate,” he added.
The Epoch Times reached out for comment to the offices of the Minnesota governor and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture but had not received any replies as of press time.