More on who owns the fruit of your labors – raisin edition

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has a few more comments on the Supreme Court ruling that when the Department of Agriculture ‘takes’ a portion of the crop from raisin farmers, the farmers have to be paid for the ‘taking’: Raisin Owners in the Sun. Previous discussion of the ruling is here.

Editorial points out the law authorizing the feds to take whatever amount of agricultural crops they want and pay whatever little amount they want was passed in 1937, which is 78 years ago. This case centers on crops that were seized in 2003 and 2004. The later of those two attempted seizures was 11 years ago.

That makes eight decades for the Supreme Court to get around to reading the Constitution and just over a decade for this case to work its way through the legal system.

Editorial reminds us of the foolishness in the Ninth Circuit. The first round of rulings from the learned judges said the constitutional protection only applies to real estate. It was their considered opinion it is okay for the government to take your car, the clothes off your back, your factory equipment, products sitting on the shelf in your store, or anything else not attached to the ground and pay you whatever is left over after they dispose of your stuff.

Second time around, the ninth circuit concluded that confiscating raisins was okay because the purpose was to drive up prices to consumers. Fallback position was that the raisin growers made an intentional decision to turn their grapes into raisins and therefore they automatically surrender their rights under the Constitution.

That is exactly what the Chief Justice said, using bigger words in a compound sentence:

“Selling produce in interstate commerce, although certainly subject to reasonable government regulation, is similarly not a special governmental benefit that the Government may hold hostage, to be ransomed by the waiver of constitutional protection.”

This protection against the government hauling off your stuff didn’t first appear in the Constitution. It was a foundational issue in American freedom before that. The editorial points out this was part of the law even before British abuses started back in colonial days:

As Chief Justice Roberts explains, the right to own property was embedded in American law long before King George III’s troops began looting the colonies. Property rights are among the core defenses that secure individual liberty, and even in this hyper-polarized age the Court was near-unanimous about their importance.

This ruling does not directly overturn the confiscatory “marketing orders” driving up prices for many other fruits and vegetables, but it will put pressure on those anachronisms. The editorial compares these rules to communism:

But the Court’s holding that just compensation means paying the fair-market value of takings will disrupt these Soviet-style cartels.

The dissenting justice says there are no ‘takings’ when the government gives some small compensation. The feds either give away or sell at a discount the product that was confiscated and return any remainder back to the raisin growers. In one year the amount was less than the cost of production and the other year the amount was zero.

In addition to communism, this also reminds me of the Confederate foragers late in the Civil War who took livestock and produce from any southern farmers who still had anything left after the previous foragers visited. They paid for what they took with Confederate money, which at that point in the war was essentially worthless.

I think the dissenting justice would heartily approve that method of feeding the Confederate troops.

For the raisin market at least, legal ownership of private property has been restored.

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