Boyd's group has lobbied for years, even staging tractor protests on Capitol Hill, to get Congress to fund the settlement, which is expected to resolve the claims of tens of thousands of black farmers.
The Native American land trust case, whose lead plaintiff is Elouise Cobell, resolves complaints by 300,000 Native Americans who found that the government had grossly mismanaged royalty payments for natural resources mined on tribal lands. The case wound through hundreds of motions, seven trials, dozens of rulings and appeals before a settlement was reached in December.
Cobell's lawyer, Dennis M. Gingold, praised Republicans and Democrats for working together to approve the deal. "No one would have expected this could have been done," Gingold said. "In this environment, with the difficult elections we just had, most people would have thought this would have been impossible."
The Obama administration has put a focus on settling such civil rights issues. Last month, Native American farmers reached a separate settlement with the government over USDA discrimination claims. Hispanic farmers and women farmers, who have similar claims, are still in negotiations with the Justice Department and USDA officials.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called Friday's Senate vote "a major milestone in USDA's efforts to turn the page on a sad chapter in our history. . . . President Obama and I pledged not only to treat all farmers fairly and equally, but to right the wrongs of the past for farmers who faced discrimination."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department had been mired in the trust litigation, said the vote was another step toward bringing resolution to the highly contentious land trust lawsuit. "The progress we have made over the last two years in reaching critical Indian country settlements is unprecedented," he said.
The White House issued a statement urging the House to also pass legislation funding the settlements, and Obama said he looks forward to signing them into law.
"While these legislative achievements reflect important progress, they also serve to remind us that much work remains to be done," Obama said. "That is why my administration also continues to work to resolve claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers against the USDA."