In the past couple of months, I drew attention to a case that would be decided by the Supreme Court this term, which I felt was probably the biggest property-rights case since the Kelo decision 10 years ago. You can read the background here. In sum, the property in question this time is not land, but raisins. A couple, the Hornes, who were raisin farmers in California were fined for declining to participate in a government sponsored raisin regulatory group in existence since the Truman Administration.
Writing a letter to the Agriculture Department, they called the program “a tool for grower bankruptcy, poverty, and involuntary servitude.” 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.”
This morning, SCOTUS ruled 8-1 in favor of the raisin growers, the Hornes. The majority opinion found “that the Agriculture Department program, which seizes excess raisins from producers in order to prop up market prices during bumper crop years, amounted to an unconstitutional government “taking.”
But they limited their verdict to raisins, lest they simultaneously overturn other government programs that limit production of goods without actually seizing private property.
The 8-1 decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, with the court’s more conservative justices in agreement. Roberts said the government violates citizens’ rights when it seizes personal property — say, a car — as well as real property such as a house.
While the government can regulate production in order to keep goods off the market, the chief justice said it cannot seize that property without compensation.”
Only Sotomayor dissented. She did not recognize the government’s fines a form of taking, saying that the rule “only applies where all property rights have been destroyed by governmental action.” In saying so, she indicated that the Hornes did retain some of their property rights, a logic that mirrored the ridiculousness of the Ninth’s Circuits’ opinion.
You can read the full court ruling here. The best quote goes to Justice Clarence Thomas who noted in his concurrence to the majority opinion, that “having the Court of Appeals calculate “just compensation” in this case would be a fruitless exercise.“