First U.S. city to offer Black residents reparations faces class-action lawsuit

The first U.S. city to offer reparations to Black residents now faces a federal class-action lawsuit alleging its program discriminates against non-Black residents in violation of the Constitution.

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed the class-action suit last month against Evanston, Illinois. The city of about 75,000 people outside Chicago in Cook County became the first locality in 2021 to implement a reparations program for Black people.


“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.

“Defendant has not identified a compelling governmental interest advanced by its race-based program. Remedying societal discrimination is not a compelling governmental interest.”

With the aim of redressing 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 to pay this year 80 direct descendants of residents who were subjected to housing discrimination. The program is funded via a tax on cannabis.

According to the court filing, the program allows applications from Black residents who were 18 years old between 1919 and 1969 and lived in the city. It also allows applications from Blacks who were 18 years old and had a parent or grandparent who lived in Evanston from 1919 to 1969.


The lawsuit claims the program violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which requires the government to treat people 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.”

Cynthia Vargas, communications manager for Evanston, said the city “will vehemently defend any lawsuit brought against our city’s reparations program.”

“The city of Evanston does not comment on the specifics of pending litigation,” Ms. Vargas said.

Former Evanston Alderman Robin Rue Simmons has praised the work of city officials to help the Black community, specifically about housing, business and education. She said those are the three areas that the community felt needed a focus.

“This is really special work,” Ms. Simmons said during a 2020 town hall meeting on the reparations agenda.


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,” Mr. Shapiro said.

The Evanston lawsuit comes in the wake of other litigation aiming to end race-based programs in the public and private sectors following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 2023 striking down affirmative action policies at public colleges and universities. The justices reasoned that school admissions based on race ran afoul of the Constitution.

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