The Obama administration is relying heavily on a 1942 Supreme Court case to sway today's justices as they consider the constitutionality of compelling Americans to buy health insurance. The 1942 ruling, in Wickard vs. Filburn, declared that "it is hardly lack of due process for the government to regulate that which it subsidizes." The case spurred a vast increase in political-bureaucratic control over American life, even though the court's ruling rested on mind-boggling economic illiteracy.
Starting in 1938, the Department of Agriculture dictated to the nation's 1.5 million wheat farmers exactly how many acres of the grain they could grow. Other programs to curtail wheat output had begun in 1933. Roscoe Filburn, an Indiana farmer who slightly exceeded his quota, claimed that the government had no right to prohibit him from growing wheat on his own land to feed to his own livestock. The Roosevelt administration, in a brief to the Supreme Court, claimed that it must have a free hand to "suppress ... a public evil."
And what was the "public evil"? Wheat surpluses. The court unanimously concluded that the government was justified even in restricting "the amount of wheat ... to which one may forestall resort to the market by producing for his own needs." The fact that Filburn's wheat might have influenced interstate commerce (if his hogs hadn't eaten it) was sufficient to sanctify unlimited federal controls over his farm.