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On The Front Lines

The Rutherford Institute Calls on U.S. Supreme Court to Put an End to Agriculture ‘Takings’ Law Justifying Government Theft of Raisins

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Denouncing the government’s confiscation of agricultural crops as feudalistic theft, The Rutherford Institute is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a Depression-era government program requiring raisin producers to surrender a substantial portion of their crop, in some years almost one-half, to the government without any guarantee or promise of payment. Weighing in on Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute argue that the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on government confiscation of property applies not only to the appropriation of land but with full and equal force to personal property such as agricultural crops. The case arose after independent raisin farmers in California were fined almost $700,000 for refusing to surrender about 40% of the raisins they produced to the government as part of a program purportedly aimed at maintaining a stable market for commodities.

“Whether you’re talking about raisins confiscated by the USDA, homes expropriated by government agencies under the rubric of eminent domain, or cars and cash seized by asset forfeiture-driven highway police, these various takings all add up to the same thing: government theft sanctioned by an endless assortment of arcane laws,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Unfortunately, the lines between private and public property have been so blurred that private property is reduced to little more than something the government can use to control, manipulate and harass the citizenry to suit its own purposes, while ‘we the people’ have been reduced to little more than tenants or serfs in bondage to an overbearing landlord. This is feudalism revisited, and it is our hope that the Supreme Court will ensure that the Constitution’s assurance of protection against the government is not reduced to an empty promise.”

Marvin and Laura Horne are independent farmers in California and have been growing raisins for almost half a century. During that time, the Hornes were subject to a Depression-era law promulgated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that aims to create “orderly” market conditions for raisins by regulating their supply. Supply is regulated by requiring that raisin producers surrender a certain percentage of their raisins (a so-called “reserve tonnage”) each year to an administrative committee. In 2002-2003, the reserve tonnage was set at 47% of the crop. The reserve tonnage may be sold by the government with the government paying itself first for administrative costs, and then providing pro rata payments to participating farmers. However, in 2002-2003, raisin farmers received payments that did not cover the expenses of production and in 2003-2004, no payments whatsoever were made for reserve tonnage raisins. Although the Hornes attempted to arrange their operation to avoid having to give up part of their crop, the USDA assessed a monetary penalty of $695,226 against the Hornes for having failed to surrender raisins they produced between 2002 and 2004. The Hornes appealed this order, arguing that the requirement that they surrender, on pain of monetary penalty, a percentage of their property without any guarantee of compensation violated the command of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined that the Fifth Amendment affords less protection to personal property than real property (land), and upheld the penalties. The Hornes subsequently appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Christopher F. Moriarty of Motely Rice LLC assisted The Rutherford Institute in presenting arguments to the Court in defense of the Hornes’ Fifth Amendment rights.

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