Posted on June 6, 2024

City Sued for Paying Hundreds of Black Residents $25,000 in Reparations

Emmanuel Felton, Washington Post, June 4, 2024

Evanston, a Chicago suburb, has been credited with launching the country’s first government-funded reparations program for Black Americans. It has paid out nearly $5 million to 193 of the town’s Black residents over the past two years.

But now a conservative advocacy group has filed a class-action lawsuit to kill the program, arguing that it discriminates against the suburb’s non-Black residents.

The lawsuit is part of a wave of cases spurred on the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions. Conservative groups have since targeted diversity fellowships and waged a legal battle to force the federal Minority Business Development Agency to open up to White business owners.

“This program redistributes tax dollars based on race,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, the group that filed the lawsuit against Evanston. “That’s just a brazen violation of the law.”

Evanston “will vehemently defend” its reparations program, said Cynthia Vargas, the city’s communications and engagement manager. She declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court at the end of May.

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“This lawsuit is part of a larger movement to challenge race-conscious programs in all aspects of society,” said Jason Schwartz, a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who is representing the Fearless Fund, a venture capital firm that provides grants to Black female entrepreneurs, against a similar lawsuit. On Monday, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit panel ruled that the Atlanta-based venture capital firm should be temporarily blocked from issuing grants reserved for businesses owned by Black women, saying that doing so would probably discriminate against business owners of other races.

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Now eyes are back on Evanston, which helped launch the national movement, said Kamilah Moore, chair of California’s Reparations Task Force.

“What happens in this case will definitely have an effect on what kind of programs we see rolling out” in other communities, Moore said.

Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of six non-Black residents of the city, argues that the program’s “race-based eligibility requirement” violates the 14th Amendment.

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Evanston’s $20 million program is open to Black people who either lived in the city or whose direct ancestors lived there between 1919 and 1969. During that period, Evanston officials have acknowledged, it enforced discriminatory housing policies that deprived Black residents of opportunities to build wealth.

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