Supreme Court rules against crop buy-back program, in favor of property rights

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday in an overwhelming 8-1 decision that a Department of Agriculture program which forces farmers to forfeit excess crops such as raisins, California prunes, tart cherries, and walnuts, is unconstitutional. Enacted during the Great Depression in 1937, the law’s objective is to keep food prices at a level high enough to sustain their continued production.

The over-produced crops taken by the government are usually sold outside the free market, or given to the federal school lunch program, charities, and third-world countries.

Despite the good intentions of the law, Marvin and Laura Horne who own a raisin farm in California, refused to participate in the program when the government was seizing 30-47% of the raisin crop in 2003 and 2004. Instead the couple decided the package the raisins themselves and sell it all on the open market.

As a result of their obstinance, the Horne’s were fined $695,000, a penalty which the high court vacated in its majority opinion.

Government compensation for the excess production of a crop is typically less than fair market value.

J. David Breemer, attorney for the Pacific Law Foundation which represented the Horne family, said after the ruling came down yesterday, “The decision confirms what should be obvious: the government cannot come and take your personal property without compensation…on the ground that the taking is for your own good.”

Monday’s ruling is a victory for private property rights, spelled out in the 5th Amendment of the Constitution, and partially reverses precedent set in a 2005 case (Kelo v. City of New London) in which the Supreme Court affirmed that a local government has the authority to use eminent domain laws to confiscate private property for new development in order to stimulate economic growth.