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Minnesota farmer’s lawsuit prompts removal of race and sex-based grant program

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Five months after Minnesota farmer Lance Nistler filed a federal lawsuit with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), the state has removed race- and sex-based preferences from its Down Payment Assistance Grant Program. This significant policy change followed Nistler’s legal challenge, which highlighted the discriminatory nature of the program’s selection process.

Pacific Legal Foundation writes involvement in Nistler’s case drew attention and criticism from Minnesota progressives. Writing in the Minnesota Reformer, Sigrid Jewett accused PLF of using Nistler “as a pawn in a larger culture war game.” She questioned why a California-based legal firm with numerous Supreme Court victories would be interested in representing a small Minnesota farmer pro bono.

PLF opposes all race- and sex-based preferences in the law, and that’s the real reason the firm chose to represent Nistler. The foundation stands against discrimination in various domains, including government board selections, school admissions, government contracts, and grant distributions, such as in Nistler’s case.

Here are the facts: Minnesota’s Down Payment Assistance Grant Program offers up to $15,000 toward the purchase of farmland. Recipients are chosen through a lottery system. However, before the policy change, even if a recipient was among the first picked through the lottery—as Nistler was, being selected ninth—they could be bumped to the back of the line if they were not a racial minority, female, LGBTQIA+, or otherwise designated as an “emerging” farmer by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Despite being chosen ninth in the lottery, which awarded grants to 68 applicants, Nistler did not receive a grant. He was moved from ninth to 102nd on the waitlist because he is a white male.

Nistler grew up on his family farm, milking cows. “They would lose money every year,” he says of the family operation. After he left for school, his family sold the cows and switched to farming soybeans, oats, and wheat. Lance’s father and uncle now run the farm, but they’re getting older. Lance, who has a degree in electronic engineering and worked in HVAC, is interested in buying a 40-acre chunk of the family farm, becoming the fourth-generation farmer in his family.

The land isn’t just going to be given to Lance. This is a working farm, and the Nistlers aren’t a wealthy family that can transfer land from one generation to the next without consideration. “My dad and uncle, they don’t have 401(k)s or anything,” Lance says. “I mean, the land and the equipment, that’s their retirement. This stuff isn’t given away. I’m not just going to get it handed down to me and inherited. It has to be purchased, and it is not cheap.”

Despite being from a farming family, Lance considers himself a new farmer—he has never owned farmland before, and he has an electronics background. Buying these 40 acres would be a huge step for Lance, planting him firmly in the farming world, which is what Minnesota’s grant program aimed to do. The idea that he would have qualified as an emerging farmer if only his skin were a different color struck Lance as wrong.

“The country we live in, the idea is it’s equal opportunity for everyone,” he says. “And if that’s what it is, then well, why shouldn’t I have the same chances?”

When Lance filed his lawsuit in January, the complaint argued that the discriminatory process violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The complaint stated:

“Nistler brings this lawsuit to vindicate his constitutional right to equal protection of the law. He brings it to give all Minnesotans a fair chance at a difference-making grant program. He brings it in the hope that he will be able to own that small farm in the near future. He brings it because he is not giving up on his dream.”

In May, after Lance called attention to the unconstitutional policy, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed legislation removing the race and sex prioritization from the program. Now, Minnesota will treat farmers equally—as the Constitution promises.

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House Speaker Mike Johnson Vows to Take Legal Action After DOJ Declines to Prosecute Merrick Garland

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House Speaker Mike Johnson expressed disappointment on Friday over the Justice Department’s (DOJ) decision not to prosecute Attorney General Merrick Garland after the House voted to hold him in contempt for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena. Johnson announced plans to take the subpoena to federal court and certify the contempt reports.

The DOJ stated that Garland’s refusal to comply with the subpoena, which instructed him to turn over an audio recording of President Joe Biden’s interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur, did not “constitute a crime.” This decision follows the GOP-led House’s vote on Wednesday to hold Garland in contempt, passing the resolution with a 216–207 vote.

“The House disagrees with the assertions in the letter from the Department of Justice,” Johnson wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter). “As Speaker, I will be certifying the contempt reports to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. It is sadly predictable that the Biden Administration’s Justice Department will not prosecute Garland for defying congressional subpoenas even though the department aggressively prosecuted Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro for the same thing.”

Johnson criticized the DOJ’s decision as “another example” of what he perceives as the Biden administration’s two-tiered system of justice. He emphasized that the House would pursue the enforcement of the subpoena against Garland in federal court. The contempt order was issued after President Biden invoked executive privilege over the tapes, though Congress has received a transcript of the interview.

In a statement following the House’s contempt vote, Garland blasted the decision, accusing House Republicans of weaponizing their power for partisan purposes. “Today’s vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers, the Justice Department’s need to protect its investigations, and the substantial amount of information we have provided to the Committees,” Garland stated. “I will always stand up for this department, its employees, and its vital mission to defend our democracy.”

The Justice Department’s refusal to prosecute Garland underscores ongoing tensions between the executive branch and the GOP-led House. The situation reflects broader disputes over congressional oversight, executive privilege, and the handling of classified information.

As Speaker Johnson moves forward with legal action, the outcome could set significant precedents for the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch. The decision to pursue enforcement of the subpoena in federal court will be closely watched, as it may influence future interactions between legislative investigators and executive officials.

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