The first U.S. city to offer reparations to Black residents is now facing a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that its program discriminates against non-Black residents, in violation of the Constitution. Last month, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a class-action lawsuit against Evanston, Illinois.

The city, with a population of about 75,000 outside Chicago in Cook County, became the first locality in 2021 to implement a reparations program for Black individuals. Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit on behalf of six residents who say they would apply for the city’s payment program but are unable to do so because of their race.

“Defendant, acting under color of law, is depriving Plaintiffs of their right to equal protection by purposefully and intentionally discriminating against Plaintiffs on the basis of race,” reads the complaint filed May 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, according to the Washington Times. “Defendant has not identified a compelling governmental interest advanced by its race-based program. Remedying societal discrimination is not a compelling governmental interest.”

To redress housing discrimination, Evanston’s program first offered $25,000 in grants for purchasing a home or making home improvements. It now also offers cash payments as an option to applicants. The city has allocated $20 million to the program and plans this year to 80 direct descendants of residents who were subjected to housing discrimination. The program is funded via a tax on cannabis.


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To address housing discrimination, Evanston’s program initially provided $25,000 in grants for home purchases or improvements. It now also includes cash payments as an option for applicants. The city has allocated $20 million to the program and plans to support 80 direct descendants of residents subjected to housing discrimination this year. The program is funded through a cannabis tax.

Less than a month after he took office, President Joe Biden signed off on the creation of a federal commission to study the issue of paying reparations to black Americans, but ultimately, the issue went nowhere.

The Evanston program allows Black residents who were 18 years old between 1919 and 1969 and lived in the city to apply. It also allows Black individuals who were 18 years old and had a parent or grandparent living in Evanston from 1919 to 1969 to apply, the Times reported.

“At no point in the application process are persons in the first and second groups required to present evidence that they or their ancestors experienced housing discrimination or otherwise suffered harm because of an unlawful Evanston ordinance, policy, or procedure or some other unlawful act or series of acts by Evanston between 1919 and 1969. In effect, Evanston is using race as a proxy for having experienced discrimination during this time period,” the lawsuit reads. The lawsuit alleges that the program breaches the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which mandates the government to treat all individuals equally.

“The Evanston, Illinois’ ‘reparations’ program is nothing more than a ploy to redistribute tax dollars to individuals based on race,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “This scheme unconstitutionally discriminates against anyone who does not identify as Black or African American. This class action, civil rights lawsuit will be a historic defense of our color-blind Constitution.”

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The Times added:

Cities in Missouri, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, California and elsewhere have been considering paying reparations to Black residents to correct wealth disparities, according to the National League of Cities.

Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute, said there is a constitutional way to pay people who were directly discriminated against.

“There’s certainly a constitutional way to compensate people for direct discrimination. It gets dicey when it starts to extend to extended relatives, however, because at a certain point, it becomes a race-based government benefit rather than a method of remedying past wrongs,” Shapiro said.


Disclaimer: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.