Horne v. Department of Agriculture

In opposition to the Great Depression when the US government destroyed excess wheat crops to maintain healthy wheat market prices, as American citizens starved and died, Horne v. Department of Agriculture (2015) said the US government must provide just compensation, in regards to government takings of property to compensate raisin farmers as outlined in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

When it comes to Horne v. Department of Agriculture, here’s the facts. The US Department of Agriculture (respondent), under the Agriculture Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, issues an order to Melvin D. Horne (Petitioner) to hand over additional raisins. However, Horne refuses to comply with the government order, which undermines Horne’s Fifth Amendment right. That being said, the appellate courts rule for the government, but the Supreme Court agrees to take up Horne’s case.

Now, here’s the issues of this case for the Supreme Court to address. First, does the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment apply to only real property? Second, does the government have to pay just compensation for the taking of property when it gives the property owner a contingent interest in the value of the property? Third, is it a per se taking when the property owner agrees to the government’s reserve requirement as a condition to engage in commerce?

Here’s how the Court ruled. The government must provide just compensation when it comes to government takings, even if it’s a reserve requirement.

When it comes to the Horne case, much like in the past, the government has ordered the taking of market commodities aka wheat crops as they did in the Great depression era (See Wickard v. Filburn). During the depression era, the destruction of market commodities, as argued by depression era economists, was done in the interest of maintaining healthy wheat prices for wheat farmers. However, due to misguided government agricultural policies, many Americans starved to death during the Great Depression.

Today, in a similar fashion, capitalist market forces dictate that 2 million chickens must be destroyed for market reasons. According to a news story “Nearly 2 million chickens at Eastern Shore farms set to be destroyed because of coronavirus-related plant shortages,” meat plants in Delaware and Maryland must “depopulate,” since there is no longer any space for these chickens. That being said, these meat plants businesses may have a Fifth Amendment lawsuit against the government like the Horne case.

In brief, the Horne case is interesting for a few reason. First, it shows us that the government cannot take property without providing just
compensation. Second, the Horne case resembles Wickard v. Filburn where the government did a taking and ordered farmer Roscoe Filburn to stop growing crops as many Americans starved to death. Third, the Horne case can be said to resemble the current meat plant situation where property is being taken, where as there is no mention of just compensation by the government.

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