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Judge certifies Pigford II settlement

Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia late Thursday issued a motion to certify and approve the settlement in the Pigford II black farmers' discrimination case against the Agriculture Department.

The settlement provides $1.25 billion for black farmers who failed to file cases on time in the original case, which has become known as Pigford I.

"Today, because of a Congress that was willing to once again waive the statute of limitations and to appropriate $1.25 billion to help further redress the historic discrimination against African-American farmers, the court is pleased to approve the settlement agreement ... as fair, reasonable, and adequate," Friedman wrote.

"This settlement is the product of extraordinary efforts by private litigants and their counsel, by the Congress, and by the executive branch," Friedman said. "The court joins all of those parties in hoping that it will bring class members the relief to which they are entitled."

The 2008 farm bill contained a provision allowing the case to be reopened, but it provided only an initial $100 million for the settlement. Congress later passed a bill to provide an additional $1.15 billion for settling cases, bringing the total amount available to $1.25 billion.

National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd Jr. praised the judge's ruling and thanked Congress and President Barack Obama, who signed the bill providing the money on Dec. 8, 2010.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement today on the case.

“This settlement allows the Department of Agriculture and African-American farmers to focus on the future, and brings us one step closer to giving these farmers a chance to have their claims heard,” said Holder. “Accomplishing this settlement has been a top priority of this administration and I am pleased that the court has approved it.”

Vilsack noted that he has made settlement of discrimination cases against USDA a priority.

“Court approval of the Pigford settlement is another important step to ensure some level of justice for black farmers and ranchers who faced discrimination when trying to obtain services from USDA,” Vilsack said. “President Obama, Attorney General Holder and I are thrilled by the court’s approval so we can continue turning the page on this sad chapter in USDA history. In the months and years ahead, we will not stop working to move the department into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider for all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.”

Boyd noted that the processing of individual applications for settlement continues.