Colorado lawmakers passed legislation recently allocating coronavirus relief funds to minority-owned businesses only.
Now, Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, is being sued over the earmarked funds.
What's the background?
Millions of COVID-19 relief dollars will soon be available to artists, entertainers, art venues and minority-owned businesses in Colorado. The passage of Senate Bill 1 last week also known as the COVID-19 Relief for Small & Minority Businesses/Arts Organizations has prioritized these groups to receive $57 million in state funding.
Exactly $4 million of the funding was earmarked for businesses that are at least 51% minority-owned, the Denver Post reported.
What's happening now?
Etienne Hardre, a white businessman who owns a barbershop, is suing Polis, claiming the allocation of funds for non-white businesses only is "unconstitutional."
Hardre argued that all businesses have been significantly impacted by the coronavirus lockdown and ensuing restrictions placed enacted by politicians, and therefore should have equal access to financial relief.
"We have nothing against minorities, minorities are fantastic," Hardre told the Post.
"However, everybody, all Americans, all Coloradans have been hurt. Business owners of all kinds, whites as well as minorities. We are doing our part to just raise a flag and say, 'Hey, this doesn't seem right to carve out the money for only one subsection of the Coloradans who have been hurt and ignore the others,'" he explained.
Hardre has lost one-third of his business revenue during the pandemic.
How is the race-based allocation unconstitutional?
Attorney Michael Kuhn explained that making access to economic aid race-based without proving how it remedies racial discrimination violates the Constitution.
"The Supreme Court has held that if you are going to do race-conscious measures, you are required to specify the past or present discrimination you are remedying," Kuhn explained.
"And societal, so-called systemic racism isn't sufficient," he added.
However, state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat, argued in an interview with WUSA that the COVID-19 pandemic "has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color."
Specifically, the Denver Post reported in August that black and Hispanic Coloradans had been disproportionately hospitalized with COVID-19 complications.
At one point during the pandemic, the hospitalization rate of black Coloradans more than doubled their share of the state population. Also, back in May, more than half of Colorado's hospitalizations were of Hispanics, despite Hispanics composing just 22% of the state population.