Change We Can Hope For

A post-World War II-era program that forces raisin producers to give part of their annual crop to the government could soon be a relic of history.

Several Supreme Court justices expressed doubts Wednesday that federal officials can legally take raisins away from farmers without full payment even if the goal is to help boost overall market prices.

An immediately post-war New Deal law allows the Federal government to manipulate the market’s raisin supply by seizing a significant fraction of a raisin farmer’s crop and thereby prop up raisin prices—for the benefit of that farmer, you see.

Raisin farmers, over the specific period at issue (because law suits, quite properly, have to be specific in their allegations), were required to give up 47% (!) of their crop to the Feds. Marvin and Laura Horne were among the farmers so afflicted, and they demurred, refusing to give up their property, their raisins. For their effrontery, the Feds have fined them almost $700,000.

The law in question, though, is a follow-on from the Supreme Court’s earlier Wickard v Filburn case that gutted the Commerce Clause by allowing the Federal government to dictate to farmers how much wheat they could grow—and therewith to manipulate market prices. Wickard made possible all of the subsequent market interferences and farm diktats that the government has inflicted on the nation.

This case, Horne v Department of Agriculture, is an opportunity for the Supremes to begin correcting that original mistake.

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