Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Horne v. USDA. I watched the case in person at the Supreme Court—the first time I’ve done so.
Horne concerns the USDA’s raisin marketing order program, one of many New Deal-era food-regulatory schemes that subsist for no good reason. The program requires raisin handlers (who process raisins for sale) to give a portion of the crop to the government—often without compensation.
The issue in the case (aside from a jurisdictional issue that appeared to evaporate quickly during oral arguments on Wednesday) is whether plaintiffs like Marvin and Laura Horne, in their capacity as raisin handlers, may sue to prevent a violation of the Takings Clause—rather than being forced to sue for restitution only after any such a violation.
The issue concerns the actions of something called the Raisin Administrative Committee, a government-mandated body that proudly “employs a staff of 17” who work diligently each year to determine how much of a raisin handler’s crop they will take, and whether they will compensate the raisin handler at all for the crop they take.
The plaintiff’s attorney explained last year how the committee’s takings work in practice.
“In 2003, when the case began,” the Hornes' attorney, Stanford University law professor and retired judge Michael McConnell, told the L.A. Times, “raisin handlers were required to set aside 47% of the crop.”
“In those two years,” says McConnell, “the raisin board ‘determined that the compensation for the reserve-tonnage raisins should be set at precisely zero dollars.”