The federal government can no longer tell family farmers how many raisins to grow and sell, the US Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case in which one farmer was fined $680,000 simply because he refused to obey the government’s orders.
The decision was a defeat for the Obama administration, which had argued that taking upwards of one-half of a farmer’s crop was nothing more than “market regulation.”
The government must compensate him, the court ruled in a 5-4 decision.
“The Government has a categorical duty to pay just compensation when it takes your car, just as when it takes your home,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion in a case called Horne vs. Department of Agriculture.
Raisins, he wrote, are “the fruit of the growers’ labor,” and not “public things subject to the absolute control of the state,”
California raisin farmer Marvin D. Horne had argued that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the takings clause in the Fifth Amendment by fining him for not turning over part of his crop to a federal agency, the Raisin Administrative Committee, which determines each year what percentage of raisins farmers can’t sell.
The USDA fined Horne and his wife Laura $680,000 for refusing to turn 47 percent of their crop over to the committee during the 2002-2003 growing season, Off the Grid News reported earlier this year. The Hornes were required to turn the raisins over to the committee by an old law, the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1937.
The act required raisin farmers to turn a percentage of their crop over to the government without charge, as part of a program meant to stabilize raisin market prices. The law passed during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and limited the supply on the market.
As Roberts noted, “The required allocation is determined by the Raisin Administrative Committee, a Government entity composed largely of growers and others in the raisin business appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture.”
In 2003–2004, farmers were ordered to turn over 30 percent of their crop.
Instead of turning their raisins over to the committee, the Hornes sold them on the open market. That led the government to try and take their money instead of their crop.
The government fined the Hornes “a fine equal to the market value of the missing raisins—some $480,000—as well as an additional civil penalty of just over $200,000 for disobeying the order to turn them over,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted.
Sotomayor dissented, agreeing with Obama administration lawyers who argued that the USDA’s actions did not violate the takings clause in the Fifth Amendment. The last portion of the amendment states: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Sotomayor claimed that the USDA’s actions were not a taking because Horne benefited from the higher prices for raisins the program created. Sotomayor was the only justice who refused to call the USDA’s action a form of taking.
Most raisin farmers participated in the program and supported it. The extra raisins were sold overseas or used in school lunch programs.
Five Supreme Court Justices – John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — ruled in Horne’s favor. Four justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan — agreed with part of the decision but dissented to the rest. Only Sotomayor agreed fully with the administration’s contention.
Who was right — the farmer or the government? Should the government set up programs to regulate prices? Share your thoughts in the section below: