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Since the 1960s, presidents have gone out of their way to honor and promote the foundational principle of equality under the law.
After Governor George Wallace stood in the door of the University of Alabama to prevent its racial integration, President Kennedy took to the airwaves to reassure all Americans that our country was “founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” This century, commemorating the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., President Obama spoke about how the brave civil-rights activists assaulted that day “didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.”
Unfortunately, a unifying message of equality is no longer coming out of our nation’s highest office. Speaking just six days after his inauguration, President Biden called for the government to instead emphasize “racial equity,” the promotion of which he said needs to be “the business of the whole government.”
It hasn’t taken long for the meaning of Biden’s words to become clear. In recent weeks, Biden administration officials have been feverishly implementing several programs that are only open to Americans of a certain race or gender. For example, on May 3, the Small Business Administration (SBA) started accepting applications for grants from the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. But because of a preference given to restaurants owned by women and certain minorities, nearly all restaurants owned by white males were excluded from applying.
Tony Vitolo, who owns Jake’s Bar & Grill near Knoxville, Tenn., sued in federal court with the help of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), the non-profit law firm where I serve as a deputy counsel. WILL is representing Vitolo pro bono in his suit.
“I do not want special treatment, but I just want to be treated equally under the law,” Vitolo says. In court filings, he has testified about the perverse results of a law ironically intended to help minorities: “Through the restaurant, I support my wife, who is Hispanic, and our children, [but] SBA treated me differently because of my race.”
Although he lost in a lower court, Vitolo eventually won on appeal. In a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Judge Amal Thapar, himself the child of Indian immigrants, wrote, “It is indeed a sordid business to divide us up by race.” Thankfully, Vitolo got his grant, but many other restaurant owners are still waiting for relief from this discriminatory program.
In another multi-billion-dollar program, Biden’s Department of Agriculture (USDA) started on June 3 to forgive loans made to farmers and ranchers. But again, not everyone is eligible for the program’s benefits — white farmers and ranchers are excluded.
Cheryl Ash, a white hog farmer from Missouri, sued the USDA along with farmers from eight other states, all of whom are represented by WILL. “At Hog Heaven Farms, we don’t discriminate against anyone. We raise and produce pork for every American to enjoy. I just want the government to treat everyone equally, just like we do, regardless of race,” Ash testified in court.
This case is pending, but on June 10, WILL obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the USDA from forgiving further loans based on race. Chiding the Biden administration’s decision to use discrimination to combat discrimination, the court wrote, “The obvious response to a government agency that claims it continues to discriminate against farmers because of their race or national origin is to direct it to stop: it is not to direct it to intentionally discriminate against others on the basis of their race and national origin.”
Unfortunately, there is more. The Treasury Department is getting ready to implement a $9.9 billion mortgage-assistance program, and part of the money is reserved exclusively for non-white homeowners. Additionally, the USDA is setting up another $1 billion program that will dole out money to farmers “based on race and ethnicity,” according to its website. One of the things the USDA can use this money for is “land access,” which may include buying land for distribution to non-white farmers and ranchers. The USDA also recently said it would start a $400 million program to purchase food from producers based on race. And the SBA is creating a $10 billion Small Business Credit Initiative with specific emphasis on giving money to non-white small businesses.
We’re not even six months into the Biden administration, and there’s much more to come. Americans who support equality under the law must, like Tony Vitolo and Cheryl Ash, stand up and be vocal. Equality undergirds our entire society, and without it, other cherished rights such as the freedoms of speech, press, and religion will be put on the chopping block. If the government can treat you differently based on your background, family, or race, then these other rights will be eroded as well.
As Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has written, the principle of equality under the law was “purchased at the price of immeasurable human suffering” over centuries. If those who cherish it don’t remain vigilant, it could be lost in a single presidential term.