Photo from thefederalistpapers.org
Back in April, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Horne v. Department of Agriculture, No. 14-275. At the time, any number of pundits – including those on FoxNews’ Special Report (video at the link) – rolled their eyes and more or less questioned the need to discuss the raisin crop. Raisins might be ridiculous as a vehicle to discuss property rights, but in the end, it didn’t really matter what commodity was used. A confiscation law was being challenged, and it was about time.
Marvin and Laura Horne are California grape growers. As such, they are subject to a 1937 law that requires raisin growers to put their product with a middleman who skims a portion off the top for the government and for which the grower is not compensated. The argument used to pass and defend this law is that if everyone in the industry does it, the market for the commodity itself can be controlled and the prices inflated, so in the end everyone wins. After all, no one said they had to grow grapes.
The program was authorized under a 1937 law that allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep prices for raisins and other crops steady by helping to manage supply. A 1949 marketing order allowed farmers to form a Raisin Administrative Committee that would decide how much of the raisin crop handlers must turn over to the government each year.
These raisins would be placed into a reserve pool to be sold outside the open market, used for the school lunch program, or given away to charities and foreign governments. Any profits from these reserve sales would go toward funding the committee and anything left over went back to the farmers.
That was seriously the government’s argument in front of the likes of John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Sam Alito, and Clarence Thomas. At the time the case was argued, even Elena Kagan said that this was either the most out of date law or a serious constitutional violation. The court, with an opinion written by the chief justice, John Roberts, agreed with the Hornes and Justicina Kagan. Only Sonja Sotomayor dissented.
Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said the government must pay “just compensation” when it takes personal goods just as when it takes land away. He rejected the government’s argument that the Hornes voluntarily chose to participate in the raisin market and have the option of selling different crops if they don’t like it.
“‘Let them sell wine’ is probably not much more comforting to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history,” Roberts said. “Property rights cannot be so easily manipulated.”
What makes this case important is not that the government will no longer be hoarding raisins, or that just compensation when the government takes private property is back to being front and center in the minds of Americans, but that the New Deal confiscation laws that are still on the books, and are still falsely manipulating the commodities markets will be challenged more readily with this precedent. Charles Krauthammer was exactly correct on that. The leftist media is already downplaying that aspect, but there should be no doubt it will happen.