Federal court blocks racially discriminatory pandemic relief in Colorado

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A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Colorado agency from distributing pandemic relief funds based on the color of an applicant’s skin.

Attorney Wen Fa of Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) told The Epoch Times in an interview the day after the ruling: “This is a great day for equality. It’s a great day for opportunity, and it’s a great day for the Constitution.”

Fa previously stated that “Colorado cannot use racial preferences to grant COVID-19 relief,” as reported by The Epoch Times.

“Equality before the law is a vital part of the Constitution, and discriminating against individuals based on arbitrary classifications like race is always wrong,” he said. “We’re not challenging that the program gives relief and grants to small businesses. We’re challenging the fact that the program provides for a minority-owned business preference in doing so.”

The temporary restraining order from Denver-based U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez came on late Oct. 12, less than a week after plaintiff Stephen E. Collins, a white man, and his event-planning business, Resort Meeting Source, filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) for what Fa, Collins’ attorney, previously called a “racially discriminatory program.” The program gives a preference to minority applicants.

The defendant, Patrick Meyers, is being sued in his official capacity as executive director of OEDIT.

After acknowledging in the 11-page order that “Collins is the Caucasian owner and sole proprietor of Resort Meeting Source,” Martinez, an Obama appointee, found based on what he called the “admittedly limited record” before him that the plaintiffs have “a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”

“The Court further finds that the balance of harms and public interest weigh in favor of temporarily restraining Defendant from awarding grants, now scheduled to commence during the week of October 18, 2021, in order to preserve the status quo ante until the Court can consider more fulsome arguments from both parties on the merits,” the order reads.

“This Temporary Restraining Order shall remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on October 26, 2021, unless extended by the Court for good cause.”

The recipients of the grants under the state’s Disproportionately Impacted Business Grant program, which was created to help small businesses, had been scheduled to be announced next week, but Martinez’s order immediately restrains Meyers, “as well as his agents, employees, successors, and assigns, and all other persons in active concert or participation with him,” from awarding the grants for the duration of the restraining order.

The program is part of SB 21-001, a measure that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed into law on Jan. 21.

According to Collins, “a minority-owned business, unlike a non-minority-owned business, automatically qualifies as a disproportionately impacted business regardless of whether it meets any of the other criteria,” Martinez wrote.

Collins’s lawyers at PLF argued that their client was less likely to obtain relief because the program establishes a preference for minority-owned businesses and he’s therefore disadvantaged in the process due to his skin color. PLF is a Sacramento, California-based national public interest law firm that describes itself as defending “Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse.”

In an interview, Fa said he believed that the court recognized that this program “is very likely to be held unconstitutional both by this court and by potentially a higher court because it gives a preference … not on the basis of any individual characteristic, but instead imposes a preference based on race.

“Now, the program, as we allege in our complaint, has already set very strict eligibility requirements, such as a business must lose 20 percent at least of its revenue since March 2020 and must not have received over $20,000 in [Paycheck Protection Program] loans.

“And our client Steve Collins, he meets all those eligibility criteria. And I would say that any business, any small business that qualifies for the grant has been impacted by COVID. So there’s even less of a reason for Colorado to be making these arbitrary racial determinations and discriminating and giving a preference to businesses just because they are minority-owned.”

UPDATE: After press time on Oct. 13 an OEDIT spokesperson advised The Epoch Times that the agency is contesting the lawsuit.

OEDIT provided documents filed with the court indicating that the plaintiffs were awarded the grants they sought and arguing that therefore they lack standing to sue.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Oct. 13, 2021, in The Epoch Times. It was updated Oct. 14, 2021.