This morning saw the Supreme Court hand down four more decisions. All were important to some degree but the most significant was one I blogged about earlier: Horne v. Department of Agriculture. The Court decided, correctly, that the government taking part of someone’s raisin crop to ostensibly raise the price of raisins was indeed a “taking” under the Constitution and they are entitled to compensation.
The Court ruled in favor of the property owners by an 8-1 margin on the most significant issue at stake: whether the government’s appropriation of the raisins is a taking. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
This is an extremely important result, because it rejects the government’s dangerous argument that the Takings Clause offers less protection for personal property than for real property (the legal term for property in land), which had been embraced by the Ninth Circuit lower court decision. For reasons elaborated in detail in an amicus brief I joined along with other constitutional law and property scholars, the government’s position on this issue was deeply at odds with the history and original meaning of the Takings Clause. Indeed, as the Court notes, the Clause was adopted in part as a reaction to abusive British confiscation of personal property during the colonial era and the Revolutionary War.
The government argued that it wasn’t really a taking because if they later sold the raisins, the Hornes would get some of the proceeds. This was clearly nonsense. If I steal your car and later give you a cut of what I got from the chop shop, that doesn’t mean I didn’t steal it in the first place. The justices were a little more divided on how to compensate the Hornes.
This is a big case, though. Somin again:
The ruling also calls into question a number of other similar agricultural cartel schemes run by the federal government. In addition to property owners, consumers of agricultural products are likely to benefit from the decision, if these cartel schemes can no longer operate. Freer competition between producers in these agricultural markets will increase the amount of goods sold, and thereby lower prices. Lowered food prices are of particular benefit to poor and lower-middle class consumers, who generally spend a higher proportion of their income on food than the affluent do.
A few years ago, Robert Levy published a fine book called The Dirty Dozen, detailing some of the worst Supreme Court decisions of the last century. One of them was Wickard v. Filburn, in which a unanimous Court decided that a man growing wheat on his own farm for his own use was intrinsically “interstate commerce”. Wickard is the basis not only of our idiotic farm policy, but the basis of the Court’s expansive view of the commerce clause, including the vile Raich decision.
This doesn’t attack Wickard but it’s the first pushback on agricultural policy in a long time, at least recognizing some limits to the power of the Department of Agriculture. Hopefully, it’s the first in a series of decisions.
However, don’t get too excited, because it doesn’t do too much to limit eminent domain where compensation is offered, or “regulatory takings” in which government rules make your property practically worthless, but not quite so worthless that it has to pay you for the lost potential uses.
Indeed. Our federal government has a tremendous amount of power that has goen well beyond its Constitutional limits. Today, a little bit got pushed back. That’s a good day.