Image 01 Image 03

Raisin Farmers defeat Feds at Supreme Court

Raisin Farmers defeat Feds at Supreme Court

“The wrath of grapes is upon the government”

Today, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that stands to drastically change the relationship farmers have with the federal government.

The order in Horne, et al. v. Department of Agriculture turned on its head the idea that the government can seize an entire “bundle” of property rights, yet avoid classifying that seizure as a taking as long as they allow the original owners to retain some manner of interest in the property. In 2001, Marvin and Laura Horne challenged that very premise when they decided to withhold portions of their raisin crop that the government mandated be relinquished to the Raisin Administrative Committee (which is indeed a real thing); the Hornes were fined almost a million dollars for their transgressions, but they fought back, arguing that the Committee’s seizure of even a portion of an individual farmer’s crop as a condition of participating in the market constituted an unconstitutional taking.

Today the Court sided with the Hornes, holding that under the 5th Amendment, the Government must pay just compensation when it takes personal property, just as when it takes real property. They said that the “reserve requirement” imposed by the Raisin Administrative Committee constitutes a clear taking, emphasizing the Committee’s requirement that farmers surrender portions of their crop at no charge.

Attorneys for the government argued that this mandate and surrender did not constitute a taking, because farmers retain a contingent interest in the net proceeds of any raisins sold by the Committee; the Court, however, shot down this idea, saying that once a physical taking has occurred, any payment that follows “goes to the question of just compensation.”

The Court also shot down the idea that transactions between the Committee and raisin farmers constitute a “voluntary exchange for a valuable government benefit”:

In one of the years at issue, the Government insisted that the Hornes part with 47 percent of their crop for the privilege of selling the rest. But the abil- ity to sell produce in interstate commerce, although certainly subject to reasonable government regulation, is not a “benefit” that the Gov- ernment may withhold unless growers waive constitutional protec- tions.

Score one for property rights.

The Court split itself in the particulars, with only the 5 most conservative justices siding fully with the Roberts opinion. Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan concurred in part; Thomas wrote his own concurring opinion; Breyer concurred and dissented in part, and was joined by Ginsburg and Kagan; and Sotomayor skidded in sideways with a full-blown dissent, emphasizing the fact that the whole scheme allows for at least some payment for surrendered crops, and holding that “[a] reduction in the value of property is not necessarily equated with a taking.”

It’s a good result; the future of the Committee’s program is under question—if not in jeopardy—and now we have clarification on the rules governing takings of both real and personal property.

We’ll keep you posted on the status of the program as the fallout from Horne settles. For now…have a punny SCOTUS Monday:

You can read the full opinion here.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


Good! Toldja.

Bitterlyclinging | June 22, 2015 at 12:38 pm

“The Wise Latina” strikes again.
“This class of fire fighters applicants for promotion all have too many vowels in their last names to qualify for promotions”
New Havens Reverend Kimber

Too bad they can’t manage such clarity in a much more blatant act by the Federal Government’s seizures of property without the owners being convicted of a crime.

OR the taking of property for the use of others by the state for the sole purpose of taxation or other so called improvement in KELO.

    I think that they will get there on the whole “civil forfeiture” dispute. It may take them another 20 years or so, but eventually a municipality or County will do something so egregious that the SCOTUS will have no choice but to accept a case and rule it unconstitutional.

    As for KELO, the states that believe in property rights have already fixed that with amendments to their state laws or Constitutions. The ones that haven’t deserve to have their populations fleeing.

      Milhouse in reply to Chuck Skinner. | June 24, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      They’ll have trouble ruling that civil forfeiture is unconstitutional, because it was used and taken for granted in the years immediately after the Bill of Rights was adopted, without any judge thinking this a problem. That’s generally taken as proof that the constitutional text was not understood at the time of its adoption as contradicting this practise. it’s Congress that should put an end to it, preferably by making it unconstitutional.

      As for Kelo, unfortunately many states that passed “anti-Kelo” reforms in the immediately aftermath soon found ways around them. It’s time for more reform in that area, perhaps a clarifying amendment.

I thought the Schecter case, 1935, settled this a LONG time ago. As Wikipedia now tells it:

“Speaking to aides of Roosevelt, Justice Louis Brandeis remarked that, “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.” In Hyde Park a few days after the decision, Roosevelt denounced the decision as an antiquated interpretation of the Commerce Clause.”

We should accept no rulings more expansive of the commerce clause than was allowed with Schecter.

    bvw in reply to bvw. | June 22, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Would that the Court’s Obama-XXXX rulings accord with another 1935 case, Wikipedia agains:

    “in Panama v. Ryan, the Court found that Congress had violated the nondelegation doctrine by vesting the President with legislative powers without clear guidelines, giving the President enormous and unchecked powers.”

    Ragspierre in reply to bvw. | June 22, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Except history didn’t stop in ’35.

    We might all agree here that it would be swell if it had, but that would be delusional.

      Far kess delusional that it seems ALL of popular culture and most politicians. But to be sane in these times is like to live in the world described by Jules Verne in “Country of the Blind”, where a sighted man becomes delusional (almost) just to survive.

      DaveGinOly in reply to Ragspierre. | June 23, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      True, but the powers vested in Congress by Art. I are frozen in time – the words of the Constitution are supposed to mean today exactly what they meant when written.

        Milhouse in reply to DaveGinOly. | June 24, 2015 at 3:01 pm

        The nondelegation doctrine isn’t in the constitution. Is there any evidence that it was generally understood in 1788 to be implied by the constitution?

Humphrey's Executor | June 22, 2015 at 1:46 pm

I’m happy for the farmers. But I fear the government will find another way to skin the cat. What, for example, will prevent the Feds from penalizing the farmers from growing too much and calling it a tax?

    Ragspierre in reply to Humphrey's Executor. | June 22, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    It’s important to remember this is a typical BIG GOVERNMENT–incumbent producer scheme to keep prices for raisins high.

    If growers tried to do this by themselves, it would be patently illegal. But they inveigled the Feds into the deal, and it’s hunky-dory.

    Does America need a domestic source of raisins? Could be. The market will provide it, if so. And the market will signal how much should be grown. And, for the first time in decades (if this restraint of trade goes away), consumers will pay the market price for raisins.

    It’s a good beginning. If we could only repeat it with ALL other commodities with governmental artificially distorted markets.

      Stan25 in reply to Ragspierre. | June 22, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      The same thing is happening in the sugar industry. The Feds keep the prices artificially high to keep out the foreign sugar producers. Big Sugar is just as wicked as big pharma.

    They can’t get away with an unconstitutional penalty just by calling it a tax. They didn’t get away with it in the 1930s, and they won’t get away with it now. That’s precisely what the first 0bamacare decision was about. Congress lies. The courts care only about what something is, not what Congress chooses to call it.

Can I be on the Raisin Administrative Committee? I was looking for a raisin d’etre. (sorry)

Thanks for posting a link to the full opinion. Now I suppose I will have a way to find out what it is about raisins that require they be administered.

    It’s a variation on Wickard v Filburn (1942). The basic premise is that a single farmer, engaging in “commerce” (buy selling, or even NOT selling but using the goods himself) can effect the larger “interstate commerce” by placing his or her goods in the stream (or not purchasing goods for his own use), and by doing so drive down the costs in the marketplace by increasing product supply or reducing internal demand.

    When all those “effects” are aggregated, they lead to a market shift, which is considered available for regulation by the FEDS. At least this now means that the Feds will have to pay market rates for those limits they place or goods confiscated, rather than a simple fee payment.

      Valerie in reply to Chuck Skinner. | June 22, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      I agree that the federal government has the power to take action under the Commerce Clause. What I have not found is why raisins are important enough to merit federal government control.

      Certain agricultural commodities, wheat, corn, poultry, beef and pork, are huge markets of obvious strategic importance. Raisins are a subset of grapes, which can also be sold fresh, canned, or used to make adult beverages. The introduction to the opinion seems to assume that the government has an interest in stabilizing the market for, not grapes, but dried grapes.

        DaveGinOly in reply to Valerie. | June 22, 2015 at 5:49 pm

        As astounding as the existence of the “Raisin Administrative Committee” might be, I’m sure there are similar committees, panels, offices, and commissions regulating every facet of all of those other commodities you mentioned, and more.

          Ragspierre in reply to DaveGinOly. | June 22, 2015 at 9:02 pm

          Actually, no, there aren’t. Very few things, actually. Sugar and milk are two notorious exceptions.

          The government involvement in sugar explains why…

          1. American candy makers (once dominant) are going extinct, and

          2. corn sweeteners are so common in so many products.

          When government screws with markets, bad things always follow.

        Milhouse in reply to Valerie. | June 24, 2015 at 3:09 pm

        Raisin grapes are not the same as wine grapes or table grapes. They’re a crop of their own, and there are or were dozens of these marketing plans. Since Wickard is still in force, the Raisin Board could simply forbid the plaintiffs from growing the excess raisins in the first place. But what it can’t now do is let them grow and then confiscate them.

      DaveGinOly in reply to Chuck Skinner. | June 22, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      Congress didn’t think it had the authority to ban alcohol, and went the hard route via constitutional amendment to do so. A few short years later and SCOTUS found all manner of authority in the commerce clause that Congress never imagined it had, even after 130 years of exploring the boundaries of its law-making authority. It now believes it can ban all manner of substances and articles of commerce (results notwithstanding).

      It strikes me that the commerce clause was intended to promote commerce (by making it “regular”) and competition (a healthy market is one with competition, the reason behind our antitrust laws), and not to manage, interfere with, obstruct, or prevent commerce, as Congress now believes (due to Wickard) is within its powers. Wickard promotes and sustains an entirely socialist ideal, that of the centrally-managed market, and is in serious need of being challenged and overturned.

stevewhitemd | June 22, 2015 at 3:36 pm

If I understand this ruling correctly, the government cannot force me into surrounding part of my personal property by telling me that “it’s for my own good.”


Doesn’t that in fact put a stake through the heart of Kelo? The government can’t seize my raisins but could, if it wanted, take the land on which they’re grown so long as it’s for a “public purpose”?

No wonder we need lawyers. No ordinary intelligent person can understand the law.

    KELO still required “market compensation” to the sellers. The farmer would have to be compensated for the “market” value of the land seized.

    In KELO, the property owner didn’t want to sell at the “market” rate, and was holding hostage a building project. The State in KELO “condemned” the property and took it by eminent domain (with the “public use” being that the new building would pay higher taxes than the crumbling buildings and vacant lots).

    The owners there WERE compensated, just at the “market” rate rather than the rate they WANTED to be compensated.

    This decision does not mean that the government CAN’T take your raisins, it just means that they can’t take a portion of your raisins FOR NOTHING as a condition of you being allowed to SELL your raisins to the market.

      Ragspierre in reply to Chuck Skinner. | June 22, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      It also seems that this is the first holding that PERSONAL property can come under “takings”.

      Prior to this, it was limited to REAL property.

      As I understand…

      Which COULD be good in terms of review for asset seizure law.

        DaveGinOly in reply to Ragspierre. | June 22, 2015 at 4:38 pm

        Before even considering compensation, shouldn’t the constitutionality of the taking be considered? That is, in the taking, is the government fulfilling one of its duties while exercising an enumerated power? Congress can’t just “take” anything it pleases, even though it may offer “just compensation.” The taking must be necessary to the fulfillment of a duty or obligation authorized by the Constitution. If it’s not, then it’s not necessary to consider what “just compensation” might be, because the taking itself shouldn’t be allowed.

        I don’t know if this principle has been declared by SCOTUS, but I think it a logical one. Does anyone know of an opinion espousing this principle?

          Milhouse in reply to DaveGinOly. | June 24, 2015 at 3:24 pm

          Regulating interstate commerce in raisins is enough of a public purpose to justify a taking. And of course states and cities are not limited to enumerated powers (unless their own constitutions or charters say so), so they can take anything they please, so long as it’s for some public purpose such as collecting higher taxes. The fifth amendment takes this for granted, and doesn’t restrict it in any way; it merely requires just compensation.

        JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Ragspierre. | June 22, 2015 at 5:15 pm

        It was lawyers who construed, massaged, twisted, spindled and mutilated these clauses into their present day bastardizations to begin with.

        There are many, many fine practitioners of law with noble aspirations and achievements to be sure, but the notion of the law’s lawyers is an abstraction of the devil’s work.

        Milhouse in reply to Ragspierre. | June 24, 2015 at 3:18 pm

        It may be the first holding to that effect, but only because nobody had ever aked a court to rule on it; it was always taken for granted that “property” means all property, not just real. All nine justices agreed on that; even Sotomayor.

      JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Chuck Skinner. | June 22, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      So, in essence, the Court says that enforcing what amounts to an extraordinary tax on raisin production paid in the form of raisins, which has a market value controlled by the taking of raisins from producers in the first place, is a no-go?

      It is a joy to see the absurdity of government reasoning exposed in all its convoluted glory.

      BTW – you do realize in KELO that New London took the property, not the state of CT. The irony for the 88-or-so homeowners who lost their property, and New London, is that Pfizer has since changed its’ mind, does not want the property, and is reducing activity at their Groton research center. The area looks like a ghost town.

        platypus in reply to walls. | June 22, 2015 at 6:36 pm

        The domestic commies should be pleased. Everybody being equally miserable is their dream, right? Well except for the dear leaders.

        Eskyman in reply to walls. | June 23, 2015 at 12:04 am

        OK, now, is this stuff from The Fountainhead or was it Atlas Shrugged?

        I gave up and went John Galt, myself.

        Hope we end up with a nice civilization once all the commotion is over!

        Enh. I call it “the State” as a functional sub-set of the state (the municipality is subject to state control via the legislative process). I probably should have been more specific to avoid confusion and said “the local government,” but it appears that everybody got the gist of what I was saying.

        Milhouse in reply to walls. | June 24, 2015 at 3:27 pm

        New London is a creation of the state of Connecticut, and derives its powers from the state. That’s why it’s bound by the fourteenth amendment, and thus also by the fifth, in the first place. If it had its own powers then it wouldn’t even have had to compensate Ms Kelo.

“…[a] reduction in the value of property is not necessarily equated with a taking.”

Doesn’t this fly in the face of earlier opinion? Would some of the cognoscenti here care to comment?

    Milhouse in reply to DaveGinOly. | June 24, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    No, it isn’t. It’s exactly consistent with the Court’s long-established opinion. Only if a regulation makes the property practically valueless is it considered a taking.

Subotai Bahadur | June 22, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Would any legal types here care to comment on whether this decision has any bearing on the EPA declaring that the mud puddle in my driveway when it rains is now Federal?

    platypus in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | June 22, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Let’s just say that it can be made into an argument against the forced transfer for no consideration of ownership of the puddle. I would take a oil burning industrial heater and evaporate it. Then I would get a permit and cement the driveway.

    Milhouse in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | June 24, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    No, it has no bearing at all. Nobody has declared your puddle federal land. All they’ve done is to consider it part of “the navigable waters of the United States”, over which Congress has always had jurisdiction. It’s still your puddle, and you can still do with it whatever you like, subject to their regulations. If those regulations become so onerous that the property loses all or almost all its value, then you are entitled to be compensated. But all of that was clear long before this decision. This decision doesn’t affect it in any way.

The California Raisins are dancing!

C. J. Roberts has a sense of humor:

“Let them sell wine” is probably not much more comforting to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history. …

In other words, “Let them eat cake.”

Henry Hawkins | June 22, 2015 at 8:33 pm

I have a federally controlled mud puddle at the end of my driveway. I just went and pissed in it. Hahahahahaha. Take that, feds.

That would be denial. (Insert corny laugh track here.)

A step forward for property rights. I’d feel better about it, though, if the farmers hadn’t gone along with having the prices propped up until the prop was no longer enough.

hope this the relevent precedent for throwing out ALL Federal takings without a Federal Civil Court ruling, and State takings as well.

    Milhouse in reply to mathewsjw. | June 24, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Why would you need a court to rule on a taking? The government’s power to take private property for public purposes is undisputed. This ruling certainly doesn’t disturb it in any way.

” their raisin crop that the government mandated be relinquished to the Raisin Administrative Committee ”

Good grief, has the United States of America become a feudal republic with the king taking all?
It is certainly not Capitalist.