The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case brought by raisin farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) alleging that a federal program requiring a portion of the yield to be set aside amounted to a taking of their property, thus requiring just compensation. Horne v. USDA, No. 14-275 (U.S., oral arguments heard April 22, 2015).
According to news reports, the justices appeared to favor the raisin farmers’ arguments. “You come up with the truck, and you get the shovels, and you take their raisins—probably in the dark of the night,” Chief Justice John Roberts reportedly said. At another point in the proceedings, he called the program’s requirement “a classic, physical taking.” Justice Antonin Scalia reportedly called the program “ridiculous” and compared its structure to communism (“Central planning was thought to work very well in 1937. Russia tried it for a long time.”), and Justice Samuel Alito asked if the government could take ownership of a number of cell phones or cars produced by private companies. Contemplating the government’s argument, Justice Stephen Breyer reportedly observed that the program did offer financial benefits to the farmers by preserving stable prices for raisins, which could sell for much less in high-yield years if all of the produced raisins entered the market. Additional details about the lawsuit appear in Issue 552 of this Update. See Bloomberg Business and The Hill, April 22, 2015.