Gov. Brown: Lawsuit targets $62M fund for Black Oregonians
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum have vowed to defeat a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a $62 million relief fund established for Black Oregonians harmed by the novel coronavirus.
Great Northern Resources, a family-owned logging outfit based in John Day, officially filed suit against the Oregon Cares Fund on Oct. 29 at Portland's federal courthouse.
"The company is ineligible to receive a grant from the Fund because its owner is not Black," according to the 15-page complaint. "By distributing government benefits on the basis of race, Oregon has violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
The suit names the Oregon Department of Administrative Services chief operating officer Katy Coba and the nonprofit charged with disbursing the funds, The Contingent, as defendants.
In the joint statement signed by Brown and Rosenblum, the two elected Democrats said the fund was providing "narrow, timely and targeted relief" to Black-owned businesses, nonprofits and families that face disproportion impacts, including high rates of infection and adverse complications, from COVID-19.
"As a state, we have a duty to aid those in need. We must not allow pernicious and ideologically motivated lawsuits to impede our efforts to deliver critical resources to Oregonians amid a devastating pandemic," according to the Nov. 12 statement. "On behalf of all Oregonians, we intend to actively defend this important program."
Great Northern Resources says it faces a loss of $200,000 this year after a nearby mill stopped buying timber. The company says it applied for relief from the Oregon Cares Fund for Black Relief and Resiliency and reported having zero owners who self-identify as black. The Contingent said no decision would be made before Oct. 31, but the suit claims "that response will be a denial."
The Oregon Legislature's emergency board approved spending a portion of the federal government's $1.6 billion COVID-19 allotment to Oregon on the Cares fund in July, prompting warnings from state Republicans who contended the program was unlawful.
On Nov. 7, the plaintiffs filed a request for a restraining order that, if granted, would prevent the state "from using race as an essential factor in distributing relief funds."
District of Oregon Judge Karin J. Immergut has not yet ruled on the motion for a temporary restraining order, per court records, but the state officials have offered to post a $200,000 bond with the court, which is twice the maximum grant provided by the Cares Fund.
Edward Blum, a conservative legal strategist who has backed a number of lawsuits involving race and ethnicity, announced that his organization, the Project on Fair Representation, would fund the Northern Resources case in a press release.
"It is unfair and unconstitutional to treat individuals differently because of their race," Blum said in a statement to the Tribune. "If the state of Oregon wants to help small business owners who have been affected by Covid-19, those relief funds should be made available to everyone — African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Native-Americans and whites."
In their release, the governor and attorney general described Blum as an "out-of-state activist who is known to use the courts to try to undermine civil rights legislation and public policy."
Follow me on Twitter
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.