Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has asked a federal judge to stop a U.S. farm program from directing aid to racial and ethnic minorities, arguing that the policy discriminates against him and other white ranchers and farmers.
Miller’s lawsuit, filed Monday in Fort Worth federal court, was the first legal challenge to Biden administration policies to be sponsored by America First Legal, recently founded by Stephen Miller and other top Trump administration officials as a conservative alternative to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“When it comes to financial aid, it shouldn’t matter what race or ethnicity you are,” Stephen Miller, a former top policy adviser to President Donald Trump, said on Sean Spicer’s Newsmax show Monday.
Sid Miller, a conservative Republican who owns a ranch in Erath County, sued as a private citizen, not a state official or on behalf of the state of Texas.
Colorful and controversial, Miller has been the state’s top agricultural official since 2015 and was an early and vocal supporter of Trump, appearing at campaign events and anti-impeachment rallies and meeting with transition officials in 2016 to discuss a possible Cabinet position as U.S. agriculture secretary.
He didn’t get the job, but his lawsuit names the agency’s current secretary, Tom Vilsack, to seek changes to a 2021 American Rescue Plan Act program. That initiative directs aid to a “socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher” — defined by the Agriculture Department as African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaskan natives, Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders — who has been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These racial exclusions are patently unconstitutional, and the Court should permanently enjoin their enforcement,” the lawsuit said. “Doing so will promote equal rights under the law for all American citizens and promote efforts to stop racial discrimination, because the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of all white farmers and ranchers excluded from the aid program, was assigned to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
O’Connor’s courtroom is a favorite destination for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuits targeting Democratic policies out of the White House, and the judge has ruled against the Affordable Care Act, family leave benefits for gay couples and transgender-friendly bathroom policies under the Obama administration.
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This wasn’t the first time Sid Miller has turned to the courts to air grievances.
Last year, Miller joined an unsuccessful Texas Supreme Court challenge that sought to overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that added six days of early voting before the November election as a pandemic-safety measure.
He also has a lawsuit pending that seeks to overturn a Texas Senate rule that requires a negative COVID-19 test before access is granted to the Senate floor, the overhead gallery or committee hearing rooms.
Miller last month sued Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fellow Republican, and all 31 senators, arguing that the testing rule violates free speech protections and the right to petition the government.
After several postponements, a hearing on the lawsuit is set for May 4 before state District Judge Jan Soifer in Austin.
Outside of the courtroom, Miller has also been outspoken on race-related issues that have riled Democrats, civil rights groups and progressive leaders, including a “Get a rope” comment he added to a Facebook post about the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ inability to fly Confederate flags at a 2019 Stephenville parade.
Critics noted that lynching has been an intimidation and terror tactic used against racial minorities, but Miller said his comment was a joke that referred to a popular salsa commercial.
In 2017, Miller criticized the Six Flags amusement park chain’s decision to fly only the U.S. flag, calling the removal of the Confederate flag part of a race-bating, militant movement that was trying to sanitize U.S. history.
Previous Facebook posts also compared Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes and appeared to recommend using atomic bombs against Muslims.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Sid Miller sues over farm program as discrimination against whites