When Congress last November approved $1.15 billion to settle residual claims of racial discrimination by black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), supporters lauded the vote and President Obama's signature the following month. This, they said, was justice belatedly done. Yet critics justifiably have argued that the class-action suit rests on an edifice of fraud. One of them, a member of Congress, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is taking action. He's lined up a pair of unnamed witnesses, one a black farmer and the other a longtime USDA employee, willing to tell all. Early this month, Rep. King announced these individuals indicated a willingness to reveal to Congress that plaintiffs' attorneys engaged in an unscrupulous campaign to sign up co-plaintiffs, many of whom never farmed in their lives. The issue now is whether he can persuade his colleagues to hold a hearing.
Blacks account for about 1.5 percent of all farm operators in this country - and apparently a lot higher share of the civil rights lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). On February 18, lawyers for the USDA and thousands of black farmers reached a $1.25 billion class-action agreement resolving, for now, claims that the department had engaged in willful racial discrimination in managing its loan and other aid programs. Think you've seen this headline before? You have. Back in 1999, black farmers, armed with similar claims of racial bias, snagged a federal guarantee of $50,000 per plaintiff plus loan forgiveness and tax liability offsets.