StepanPopov/Shutterstock.com

Supreme Court To USDA: Hands Off the Raisins

The court struck down a program that seized excess raisins in an effort to stabilize prices.

The Supreme Court said Monday that the government cannot demand a cut of farmers' raisins, striking down a scheme that the justices had compared to communism and described as "the world's most outdated law."

In an 8-1 decision that included an allusion to the French Revolution and an assurance that raisins "are a healthy snack," the court put to rest a years-long dispute over a New Deal-era law and the Raisin Administrative Committee it created.

The Agriculture Department frequently tells farmers that they can only plant a certain amount of a particular crop in a certain year, or buys up excess supply, to help stabilize prices. But thanks to a 1937 law, control of the raisin market works differently: Farmers have to hand over a certain percentage of their raisins to the federal government.

That's unconstitutional, the court said Monday.

The raisin law always faced long odds at the Supreme Court. During oral arguments in an earlier iteration of the case, Justice Elena Kagan suggested that it might be "the world's most outdated law." At the same session, Justice Antonin Scalia compared it to a high-stakes threat: "Part of that penalty was, you know, your raisins or your life," he said.

When the raisin regime came back before the high court this spring, Scalia compared it to communism. "Central planning was thought to work very well in 1937, and Russia tried it for a long time," he said. And Chief Justice John Roberts joked that "you come up with the truck and you get the shovels and you take their raisins, probably in the dark of night."

Technically, the legal question before the court was whether the raisin scheme constituted a "taking." The Fifth Amendment says the government cannot take "private property … for public use, without just compensation." And the court's decision was a literal one: Yes, when the government takes farmers' raisins, it's "taking" their raisins for Fifth Amendment purposes.

"The reserve requirement imposed by the Raisin Committee is a clear physical taking. Actual raisins are transferred from the growers to the Government. Title to the raisins passes to the Raisin Committee," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court's majority.

Roberts went to great lengths, however, to limit the ruling to raisins, differentiating dried grapes from other products that the government might be able to take without violating the Constitution.

For example, "raisins are not like oysters," Roberts wrote. The Supreme Court previously upheld a law allowing the state to demand a certain share of farmers' oysters, saying they were not the farmers' property. But raisins, he said, "are private property—the fruit of the growers' labor."

Nor are raisins similar to toxic chemicals, or the trade secrets about how to make them.

The court has also upheld a law requiring pesticide manufacturers to turn over trade secrets about their products—which normally would be considered their property—in exchange for the right to sell them. The Justice Department cited that ruling in defending the raisin restrictions, arguing that raisin farmers simply had to turn over part of their yield—47 percent of it, in one year at issue in the case—in exchange for the right to sell the rest.

Roberts wasn't buying the analogy.

"Raisins are not dangerous pesticides; they are a healthy snack. A case about conditioning the sale of hazardous substances on disclo­sure of health, safety, and environmental information related to those hazards is hardly on point," he wrote.

The Justice Department also argued that raisin growers were free to plant other types of grapes if they didn't want to set any aside for the government. Again, Roberts was not swayed.

"Let them sell wine" is probably not much more comforting to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history," he said.

By focusing on the specifics of the raisin policy, Roberts sought to draw a distinction from other marketing orders that, for example, limit how much of a particular crop farmers can grow in a certain year. While those policies limit farmers' potential profit, Roberts wrote, they don't do so by taking control of products they've already produced.

"A physical taking of raisins and a regulatory limit on production may have the same economic impact on a grower. The Constitution, however, is concerned with means as well as ends," Roberts wrote.

Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor fully dissented from the court's ruling. "The Order may well be an outdated, and by some lights downright silly, regulation," she wrote, but it leaves farmers with at least some of their relevant property rights still intact, and therefore is not unconstitutional.

(Image via StepanPopov/Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.