Ten years ago last week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of the most significant property rights decisions in modern court history. Their 5 – 4 ruling in June of 2005 in the Kelo v New London case allowed the government to take away the home of Susette Kelo so that it could be replaced by a much larger commercial development. As the result of this significant property rights case, Ms. Kelo lost the case and her home. And, ironically, ten years after Ms. Kelo was forced from her home by the power of eminent domain, every redevelopment plan for her property has failed. The community of New London, Connecticut owns a large parcel of empty land where a little pink house once stood.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court finally got one right when they issued a long-awaited ruling on Horne v. USDA. The eight to one decision handed down by the Supreme Court stated that the federal Raisin Administrative Committee (yes, that’s its real name) does not have the right to seize a portion of the raisin crop grown by the defendants.
Faithful readers will recall that the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota has kept a watchful eye on this case involving Fresno, California raisin farmers Marvin and Laura Horne. The outcome of this case is nothing short of miraculous in respecting private property rights of farmers.
Since the Great Depression, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has required raisin growers to set aside a portion of their annual crop in an effort to create “raisin scarcity.” Seriously. For grape growers like the Hornes, this meant that in the crop years of 2003 – 2004, they were required to give to the government 30% of their raisin crop – without compensation. The year before, the “raisin police” seized without payment nearly half of their annual crop.
The Hornes refused to accept the absurdity of this USDA regulation that they correctly said was “a tool for grower bankruptcy, poverty, and involuntary servitude.” According to The Wall Street Journal, “the raisin police were not amused. The Raisin Administrative Committee sent a truck to seize raisins off their farm, and when that failed, it demanded that the family pay the government the dollar value of the raisins instead. The Hornes say “this raisin toll is an unconstitutional seizure of their property” and sued the USDA under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. And they won.