Lawsuit declares first US reparations scheme ‘unconstitutional’

America’s first operational reparations scheme has been slapped with a lawsuit that calls $25,000 payouts to black Illinois residents ‘unconstitutional.’

The class-action lawsuit led by Judicial Watch, a conservative group, casts doubt on the future of the watershed reparations program in Evanston, a Chicago suburb.

The scheme was launched in 2021 and offers $25,000 payments to black residents who suffered from racist housing policies in the 20th Century.

The suit, filed at the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, calls it unlawful because it awards handouts based on skin color.

It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits by conservative activists seeking to upend racial justice initiatives.

A Black Lives Matter sign sits in front of a home in Evanston, Illinois, the first US city to launch a reparations scheme

Robin Sue Simmons chairs a committee that pays out reparations to Evanston's black residents. City officials say they will fight to defend the scheme

Critics say they stoke divisions between winners and losers and make race relations worse.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, says Evanston’s scheme was ‘nothing more than a ploy to redistribute tax dollars to individuals based on race.’

It ‘unconstitutionally discriminates against anyone who does not identify as black or African American,’ he added.

The city says it will defend its reparations program.


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Evanston launched the scheme in March 2021, aimed at repairing the damage from racist housing policies against black people from 1919 to 1969.

Black residents could not get on the property ladder and were kept on the city’s western fringe.

The reparations program is open to black adult residents of Evanston between 1919 and 1969, who are known as ancestors, and their descendants, who were hurt by the same policies since then.

The $25,000 payouts were initially reserved for housing costs, but now include cash payments.

More than 125 ancestors have received payouts, and about 80 direct descendants are getting the sums each year.

This month’s nine-page complaint seeks to quash the scheme, which is funded by cannabis and property taxes.

It lists six plaintiffs — Margot Flinn, Carol Johnson, Stasys Neimanas, Barbara Regard, Henry Regard and Stephen Weiland — who say they’ve been hurt by Evanston’s reparations program.

None of them is black and none currently live in Evanston, but their parents did.

They would qualify for the payments, were eligibility not limited to 20th Century black Evanston residents and their descendants, the suit says.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, says the scheme in Illinois is 'unconstitutional'

The reparations committee has already greenlighted payouts to dozens of Evanston residents

The program violates the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law, it argues.

The plaintiffs want the court to stop the city from using race to assess eligibility, and to award them damages and cover legal fees.

Evanston spokesperson Cynthia Vargas says the city won’t comment on the case.

But it would ‘vehemently defend any lawsuit brought against our city’s reparations program,’ she has said.

The city’s website says the scheme was designed to remedy the problems of past policies that directly affect people living today.

‘Reparations, and any process for restorative relief, must connect between the harm imposed and the city, it says.

The suit is the latest in a barrage of legal assaults on reparations and other racial justice initiatives since a landmark Supreme Court decision that effectively ended race-conscious admissions to US universities in June 2023.

Conservative groups have spearheaded lawsuits and civil rights complaints against schemes in public and private institutions that are designed to give a leg-up to minorities.

The Chicago suburb of Evanston made history in 2021 with America's first operating reparations program

Campaigners say it’s time for America to repay its black residents for the injustices of the historic Transatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow segregation and inequalities that persist to this day.

The sums are eye-watering — black lawmakers in Washington seek at least $14 trillion for a federal scheme to ‘eliminate the racial wealth gap’ between black and white Americans.

Critics say payouts to selected black people will inevitably stoke divisions between winners and losers, and raise questions about why American Indians and others don’t get their own handouts.

Reparations are popular among the black people who stand to benefit from them, but unpopular among the whites, Asians, and others who would foot the tax bill without themselves benefiting.

Fully 74 percent of blacks support the US government reparations for slavery and its legacy, compared with just 26 percent of whites, according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey from last year.

Reparations are much more popular among Democrat voters than with Republicans.

From the 15th to the 19th century, at least 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped, forcibly transported by European ships and merchants and sold into slavery.

Those who survived the brutal voyage ended up toiling on plantations in the Americas, including in Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States, while others profited from their labor.

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