The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is pleased that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak took a step in the right direction by adopting recommendations contained in a two-year study examining the agency’s longstanding history of discrimination and civil rights injustices. As evidenced by the 2009 Shirley Sherrod debacle and the thousands of civil rights and equal opportunity claims against the agency, it is clear that this was a much needed step and that more work must still be done.
As an organization formed at the request of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to mobilize the private bar in the vigorous enforcement of the nation’s civil rights laws, we remain committed to ensuring racial justice and equality for all Americans. We have long supported redress from racial discrimination against African American farmers as with the Pigford v. Vilsak case and have also supported the objectives for similar claims of Latinos, Native Americans and women.
It is significant that the Obama Administration, including Senator Harry Reid, Secretary Vilsak and Assistant Secretary Joe Leonard worked hard to bring to fruition the huge Pigford settlement in remedying discriminatory practices against black farmers. It is further significant that the Pigford legislation provided $3.4 billion to fund a separate settlement reached with the U.S. Department of Interior for mishandling of a trust fund managed for Native Americans. While lower than we would prefer, it is also commendable that just last week, the Administration announced $1.3 billion in funds to female and Hispanic farmers to settle USDA