A federal appeals panel in the Sixth Circuit last week invalidated a provision in a restaurant relief program contained in President Joe Biden’s massive coronavirus relief bill that prioritized grant consideration based on the race, gender, or national origin of the applicant, as the Daily Wire reports.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Tennessee restaurateur Antonio Vitolo which argued that the racial and gender preferences found in the $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund program – purportedly meant to assist hard-hit businesses recover from pandemic-related setbacks – were unconstitutionally discriminatory.
According to the provision in question, grant seekers whose enterprises were at least 51%-owned by a woman or by a person who was part of one of the specific racial or ethnic groups enumerated in the program rules would receive priority review of their funding request by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
As a result, the lawsuit asserted, business owners who were white men, or simply members of ethnic or racial groups not explicitly afforded preferential treatment by the terms of the program were relegated to the back of the line in violation of the equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment. During that delay, it was argued, available grant funds would likely be depleted, leaving non-minority applicants out in the cold.
In addressing the reason for his lawsuit, Vitolo put it plainly, saying in a statement, “I do not want special treatment. I just want to be treated equally under the law. I am opposed to race and sex discrimination, and I would hope my government lived up to the same principle.”
Illustrative of the arbitrary standards used in processing grant applications under this program is the fact that Vitolo himself owns 50% of his restaurant, while his wife – who is Hispanic –is the owner of the other half. If his wife had held 51% of the business, their enterprise would have qualified for priority review, but because their shares were held in equal proportion, Vitolo’s status as a white male disqualified them from beneficial treatment.
In reversing a lower court’s denial of Vitolo’s request for race-neutral consideration of his grant request by a margin of 2-1, the appellate panel in the Sixth Circuit ordered the government to stop its use of the aforementioned “unconstitutional criteria” in administering the relief fund program.
Judge Amul Thapar, author of the opinion in the matter, stated, “This case is about whether the government can allocate limited coronavirus relief funds based on the race and sex of the applicants. We hold that it cannot.” He also criticized the government for using what he called a capricious and “scattershot” approach in determining which groups ought to be declared “socially and economically disadvantaged,” adding:
Individuals who trace their ancestry to Pakistan and India qualify for special treatment. But those from Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq do not. Those from China, Japan, and Hong Kong all qualify. But those from Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco do not.
Though Democrats are certain to continue in their attempts to divide the country by race, gender, religion, national origin, and any number of other identity groups to stoke the flames of discord, Judge Thapar’s firm stance in declaring those efforts unconstitutional – at least in this instance – offers some measure of hope.