Republican-led states sue Department of Agriculture over nondiscrimination school meal guidance

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery (R), joined by 21 Republican attorneys general, filed a lawsuit on July 26, 2022, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee that aimed to overturn guidance from the Biden administration and the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service. The guidance expanded Title IX to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The directive also compelled state and local agencies receiving federal funds from the Food and Nutrition Service, including the national school lunch program, to align with nondiscrimination policies. Twenty-two Republican-led states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia) joined in the lawsuit.

The attorneys general argued that the USDA’s directive exceeded statutory authority and violated the Administrative Procedure Act by enacting a legislative rule without providing an opportunity for public comment. They also contended that the guidance interfered with the states’ right to enact legislation. The directive for states to adopt such nondiscrimination policies in schools contradicts state law in several states.

Slatery argued, “This case is, yet again, about a federal agency trying to change law, which is Congress’ exclusive prerogative.” He added, “The USDA simply does not have that authority. We have successfully challenged the Biden Administration’s other attempts to rewrite law and we will challenge this as well,” according to The Associated Press.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released a statement in May regarding the USDA’s guidance, stating that, “USDA is committed to administering all its programs with equity and fairness, and serving those in need with the highest dignity. A key step in advancing these principles is rooting out discrimination in any form – including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The Food and Nutrition Service and the Department of Agriculture had not responded to the lawsuit as of July 29, 2022. 

Additional reading:

Administrative Procedure Act

Herbert H. Slatery

U.S. Department of Agriculture