Court Battles

Lawsuit from Stephen Miller group alleges racial discrimination in distribution of COVID-19 relief

Greg Nash

A legal group founded by ex-Trump aide Stephen Miller on Thursday filed another lawsuit accusing the Biden administration of racial discrimination in the distribution of COVID-19 relief funds, this time for money designated for restaurant owners. 

Thursday’s lawsuit from America First Legal (AFL) specifically takes issue with the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) handling of the $28.6 billion in the Restaurant Revitalization Fund within President Biden’s American Rescue Plan package passed by Congress. 

The legal complaint argues that the fund requires the SBA “to discriminate among restaurants according to the race and sex of the owner,” by specifying that during the first 21 days of the program that officially began last week, the SBA administrator must “‘prioritize awarding grants’ to businesses owned by women and racial minorities.” 

“These race and sex preferences are patently unconstitutional, and the Court should promptly enjoin their enforcement. Doing so will promote equal rights under the law for all American citizens and promote efforts to stop racial discrimination,” the lawsuit adds, mirroring language included in AFL’s lawsuit filed late last month against the Department of Agriculture’s program to provide aid to “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.”

In a statement announcing the new lawsuit Thursday, Miller said, “Few industries have been harder hit by lockdowns and restrictions than the restaurant and bar industry.” 

“Yet, as these restaurant owners, operators and workers try to pick up the pieces and rebuild their businesses, they are facing a new and insidious threat: racial discrimination from the government,” he argued.

Miller went on to say that the “decision from the Biden Administration to determine eligibility and priority for restaurant relief funds based upon race is profoundly illegal and morally outrageous.” 

The lawsuit from AFL on Thursday follows one with similar complaints filed Wednesday alleging that the SBA in its distribution of funds unconstitutionally gave priority to women and specified minorities, while pushing aside white men and other minority groups. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Antonio Vitolo, the owner of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tenn., who said he applied for a grant from the fund on May 3, but that he was told by the SBA that it would “only process and fund priority group applications” in the first 21 days. 

WILL argues in its lawsuit that “Vitolo would be ‘economically disadvantaged’ were it not for the racial classification in that definition,” adding that the restaurant owner was “harmed” and  “treated differently because of their race and gender.”

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged business owners have already applied for $29 billion in aid, accounting for more than 147,000 applications. 

Roughly $2.7 billion have already been administered to 21,000 restaurants under the program, the AP noted. 

In response to questions from The Hill on the recent legal complaints, the SBA said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Tags American Rescue Plan Act biden administration class action lawsuit Joe Biden Racial discrimination Small Business Administration Stephen Miller The Associated Press
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