Conservative media outlets have launched another bogus smear on Shirley Sherrod, attacking her participation in a lawsuit charging the U.S. Department of Agriculture with discrimination against African American farmers. In fact, congressional Republicans and a federal judge agree that the USDA discriminated against African American farmers.
Conservatives attack Sherrod for participating in discrimination lawsuit against USDA
Washington Examiner op-ed attacks Sherrod's participation in discrimination lawsuit with “a checkered history.” A July 20 Washington Examiner op-ed by Tom Blumer -- “a Contributing Editor at Newsbusters, and a regular columnist at Pajamas Media” -- claimed "[Sherrod] and the USDA both deserve further scrutiny" in part because of Sherrod's connection to a settlement won from a class action lawsuit black farmers brought against the USDA for its discriminatory practices, commonly referred to as the Pigford case. Blumer wrote, “The Pigford matter goes back a long way, and to say the least has a checkered history.” Blumer went on to question why Sherrod was “so deserving” of her share of the settlement.
On Breitbart's Big Government, Ben Shapiro suggested that Sherrod received money from litigation “fraudulently.” Conservative columnist and radio host Ben Shapiro wrote in a July 22 post on Breitbart's Big Government:
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) for my radio show, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” which broadcasts every Sunday 1-4 PM ET in Orlando, FL. The topic of Shirley Sherrod came up, and in particular, the topic of the so-called Pigford Farms settlement.
For background, the Pigford Farms case is a class-action lawsuit filed against the federal government on behalf of black farmers and black wannabe farmers, who say they were discriminated against in loan proceedings. The federal government settled Pigford Farms for an unbelievable $1.15 billion. An incredibly high percentage of those receiving awards under this settlement have done so fraudulently.
Shirley Sherrod was not only an initiator of the Pigford Farms case, she received a chunk of change for her company, New Communities, Inc. To be accurate, she received the largest chunk of change for New Communities -- $13 million. New Communities was a bankrupt commune-type land trust held by Sherrod and her husband. She and her husband personally received $150,000 each to compensate them for “pain and suffering.”
Fox News: Sherrod's settlement “thickens the plot.” A July 20 FoxNews.com article reported:
The Agriculture Department has a lengthy history with the official forced to resign Monday over a controversial YouTube clip -- it turns out she and a group she helped found with her husband won millions last year in a discrimination suit settlement with the federal government.
The information about the suit only thickens the plot that has evolved seemingly by the hour since Shirley Sherrod resigned late Monday as the department's Georgia director of rural development.
Congressional Republicans supported black farmers' allegations of discrimination by USDA
GOP Sen. Grassley introduced legislation to reopen Pigford case “to allow more black farmers to join and to provide more funding to settle claims.” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has sponsored or co-sponsored a number of bills seeking to allow more African American farmers to join the settlement of discrimination claims by USDA. According to a July 23 Time report:
[A]s a Senator[,] Obama had championed the black farmers' lawsuit against the USDA.
Along with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Obama introduced legislation to reopen the case (that was initially settled in 1999) to allow more black farmers to join and to provide more funding to settle claims. The legislative language was added to the Farm Bill passed in 2008 and its inclusion led to a second Administration-negotiated settlement in February of this year for $1.15 billion. Yet the money to actually fund that settlement must be approved by Congress, and so far the House and Senate have only been able to vote for it as part of different pieces of legislation. The money will not be appropriated unless both chambers vote on a single bill that includes the funding.
Grassley on USDA settlement with black farmers: “I'm not going to give up until we get a good ending for it.” A February 25 USA Today article on the "$1.25 billion settlement with the federal government announced [in February 2010] in a longstanding case of racial discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture" reported:
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is also a farmer, pushed for legislation included in the 2008 farm bill, co-sponsored by Obama when he was in the Senate, to give farmers excluded from the first settlement “another bite at the apple.”
Grassley said funding was uncertain but he believed Congress ultimately would provide it. “I think it (the settlement) is a pretty good indication they'll get justice,” Grassley said. “I'm not going to give up until we get a good ending for it.”
Grassley: Original Pigford settlement shut many people out of the process, action had to be taken to “right the wrongs.” Grassley issued the following press release on February 18:
Settlement for Black Farmers Reached
Senator Chuck Grassley released the following statement after a settlement was announced for African American farmers who were denied entry into the Pigford v. Glickman settlement, which ended a discrimination lawsuit between African American farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Approximately 75,000 black farmers filed their claims of discrimination through the Pigford consent decree process past the deadline for their claims to be evaluated on the merits. As a result, thousands of victims of discrimination continue to be denied an opportunity even to have their claims heard.
Grassley has led the effort to put in place a process where these African American farmers can have the opportunity to plead their case based on the merits. He introduced legislation in 2007 and pressed for it to be included in the 2008 farm bill.
“I had originally hoped that the Pigford v. Glickman settlement would take care of the injustice that had been left untouched for decades. Unfortunately, many people were shut out of the process. When it became apparent that the Department of Agriculture would not act, we took further steps and introduced legislation to right the wrongs. We finally got something included in the last farm bill and now, with today's announcement, African American farmers who were wronged by the USDA are one step closer to a full resolution and well-deserved justice.”
GOP Rep. Chabot also supported allowing more African American farmers to participate in Pigford settlement. Former Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) has also sponsored or co-sponsored bills to allow more African American farmers to participate in the Pigford settlement. In 2004, as chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Chabot held an oversight hearing on the “Status of the Implementation of the Pigford v. Glickman Settlement.” In his opening statement, Chabot noted that “in an ironic twist, the process that was created to provide a forum for those whose claims had been shut out has itself shut out nearly two-thirds of all who wanted to have their discrimination claims heard.” From the September 28, 2004 hearing transcript:
We are here to consider the administration of the 1999 consent decree which resulted from the civil rights case of Pigford v. Glickman.
The consent decree was developed to provide some monetary restitution to black farmers who were victims of racial discrimination carried out by the United States Department of Agriculture, the very institution designated to assist them. It was supposed to be done in a swift and timely manner.
Rather than help black farmers, this agency has been instrumental in causing their decline. Since the early 1900s, the number of black farmers has decreased from nearly 1 million to fewer than 18,000.
During this time, when black farmers tried to seek justice by filing discrimination complaints with the USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture, their claims were either ignored or dismissed; most without an investigation.
Ultimately, several of these black farmers -- all whose claims of racial discrimination had been disregarded by the USDA -- filed a class action suit against that agency. After extensive negotiations, a settlement was reached that established a process to have all of the discrimination claims heard in a timely manner.
Yet, in an ironic twist, the process that was created to provide a forum for those whose claims had been shut out has itself shut out nearly two-thirds of all who wanted to have their discrimination claims heard.
Whether or not each of these claimants would have prevailed on the merits is not the issue before us today. The process should have at least allowed them the opportunity to be heard.
We cannot in good conscience allow a settlement that leaves out more potential claimants than it allows in to go unexamined or remain unresolved.
Too much has been lost and too much is at stake for black farmers to just accept the solution in 1999 that has failed more people than it has helped.
Federal judge and independent study found gross racial disparities in USDA programs
Federal court found that there were “decades” of “discriminat[ion] against African American farmers.” In 1999, federal district Judge Paul Friedman wrote an opinion approving the settlement in the original Pigford v. Glickman settlement. In that opinion, Friedman recounted the history of discrimination against African American farmers by the USDA (available in the appendix here):
For decades, despite its promise that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of an applicant or recipient receiving Federal financial assistance from the Department of Agriculture,” 7 C.F.R. 15.1, the Department of Agriculture and the county commissioners discriminated against African American farmers when they denied, delayed or otherwise frustrated the applications of those farmers for farm loans and other credit and benefit programs. Further compounding the problem, in 1983 the Department of Agriculture disbanded its Office of Civil Rights and stopped responding to claims of discrimination. These events were the culmination of a string of broken promises that had been made to African American farmers for well over a century.
It is difficult to resist the impulse to try to undo all the broken promises and years of discrimination that have led to the precipitous decline in the number of African American farmers in the United States. The Court has before it a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit that will not undo all that has been done. Despite that fact, however, the Court finds that the settlement is a fair resolution of the claims brought in this case and a good first step towards assuring that the kind of discrimination that has been visited on African American farmers since Reconstruction will not continue into the next century. The Court therefore will approve the settlement.
CRS: Study found gross disparities in African American participation in USDA programs. The Congressional Research Service reported that a USDA-commissioned study found that “found that from 1990 to 1995, minority participation in FSA programs was very low and minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.” From the April 21, 2010, CRS report:
In 1994, the USDA commissioned D. J. Miller & Associates, a consulting firm, to analyze the treatment of minorities and women in Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs and payments. The study examined conditions from 1990 to 1995 and looked primarily at crop payments and disaster payment programs and Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) loans. The final report found that from 1990 to 1995, minority participation in FSA programs was very low and minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.
According to the commissioned study, few appeals were made by minority complainants because of the slowness of the process, the lack of confidence in the decision makers, the lack of knowledge about the rules, and the significant bureaucracy involved in the process. Other findings showed that (a) the largest USDA loans (top 1%) went to corporations (65%) and white male farmers (25%); (b) loans to black males averaged $4,000 (or 25%) less than those given to white males; and (c) 97% of disaster payments went to white farmers, while less than 1% went to black farmers. The study reported that the reasons for discrepancies in treatment between black and white farmers could not be easily determined due to “gross deficiencies” in USDA data collection and handling.