Don’t Take Our Raisins! An Introduction to American Takings Law

With the United States Supreme Court hearing oral arguments Wednesday in Horne v. Department of Agriculture — a case concerning the application of the US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Takings Clause to raisin farmers, it seems an appropriate time to review some of the basics of American takings, or eminent domain, law.

The Horne case concerns a US raisins regulatory system created in 1940s and authorized by the Agriculture Marketing Agreement Act of 1937. The Horne family, which grows grapes to produce raisins in California, owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for failing to hand over a portion of its crop each year to the Department of Agriculture (USDA)-overseen Raisin Administrative Committee. The Horne case decision will very like have ramifications for similar government regulatory systems related to various other American agricultural products. Depending on what the court decides, the case’s effects could be even broader.

James Bovard delved into the workings of the Raisin Administrative Committee and similar government-created marketing boards in his book Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty. In a chapter appropriately titled “The Proliferation of Petty Dictatorships,” Bovard writes:

Under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, USDA appoints farmers to government marketing boards that impose “marketing orders.” These boards restrict the sale of specific fruits and vegetables and can severely punish farmers who sell more of their crop than the boards permit. USDA has granted vast discretionary power to these marketing boards.

For a short introduction to concepts in American takings law, below are introductory comments I presented in 2013 to Universidad Francisco Marroquín professors to kick off a discussion regarding property rights and related issues. In this presentation at the university’s Guatemala City campus, I provide a quick overview of some key American takings law concepts. The presentation starts with consideration of the respect for property rights demonstrated in the US Constitution and concludes with discussion of the Dolan v. City of Tigard US Supreme Court decision, a decision that will likely play an important role in the court’s consideration of the Horne case.

Watch the presentation here:

Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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