The government has a vested interest in…raisins?


According to a lawsuit the Supreme Court just accepted, yes (h/t to Mary Katharine Ham):

Long-time California raisin farmers Marvin and Laura Horne have been forced to experience firsthand the costs that America’s regulatory state imposes on entrepreneurs, especially innovative members of the agriculture industry.

No longer do farmers enjoy the ancient right to sell their produce and enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Indeed, Horne v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture exemplifies the extent to which all property and business owners are made to suffer a needless, Rube Goldberg-style litigation process to vindicate their constitutional rights.

In this case, the USDA imposed on the Hornes a “marketing order” demanding that they turn over 47% of their crop without compensation.  The order—a much-criticized New Deal relic—forces raisin “handlers” to reserve a certain percentage of their crop “for the account” of the government-backed Raisin Administrative Committee, enabling the government to control the supply and price of raisins on the market.  The RAC then either sells the raisins or simply gives them away to noncompetitive markets—such as federal agencies, charities, and foreign governments—with the proceeds going toward the RAC’s administration costs.

The Hornes are alleged to owe the federal government a few hundred dollars over $650,000 for not setting aside the requisite amount of their raisin produce in the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 growing season, between the market value of the product they kept in alleged violation of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937.

Fortunately, Cato is on the case:

Having filed an amicus brief that supported the Hornes’ successful petition for Supreme Court review, Cato has again joined the National Federation of Independent Business, Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, and Reason Foundation on a new brief that urges the Court to affirm its plurality decision in Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel (1998), which held that an unjustified monetary order is inherently a taking without just compensation.  Any ruling to the contrary imposes a pointless burden on property owners, particularly when the government initiated the original proceeding.

According to Reuters, the Hornes are arguing the government’s requirements violate the “Takings Clause” of the 5th Amendment, as they are not receiving compensation for their lost potential income. Given what can be surmised from Reuters and Cato, it appears they have quite the case.

Oral arguments for the Hornes are on March 20, and the decision will come before the end of the current session of the Supreme Court in the summer.