Raisin farmer challenging USDA’s $700G fine before Supreme Court


A California farmer is fighting the government to keep the fruits of his labor.

Raisin farmer Marvin Horne is heading to the Supreme Court on Wednesday in a bid to stop the federal government from demanding he hand over his dried fruit crop — almost half of it — without “just compensation.” He plans to argue that the government is violating his 5th Amendment rights, under a decades-old policy.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “handlers” of raisins, who package the crop, must hand over a portion of their yield each year. But “producers,” who actually grow the raisins, get to keep all the fruits of their labor.

In 2000, Horne was a “handler” and then tried to become a “producer.” Several years later, the USDA told Horne he still needed to hand over 47 percent of his sun-kissed grapes to the government. Horne refused — and the agency hit him with $700,000 in fines and penalties.

The law requiring all raisin growers to give the government a certain amount of their crop each year is part of the 1937 Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act, which was created during the Great Depression and designed to keep prices steady.

Raisin growers aren’t the only ones giving their goods to what some challengers of the law call “the nanny state.” According to the USDA, their “Marketing Order Commodity Index” requires about 20 different growers to give a certain percentage of their crop to the powers that be — almonds, plums, and spearmint oil included.

Reached for comment, a USDA spokesperson told FoxNews.com the current law “provides the industry in California with the ability to establish and modify handling regulations in order to improve global marketing opportunities for producers and handlers.” 

The official added: “The USDA is continuing to review the proposed rule-making actions. We will wait to hear the Supreme Court’s decision on Horne v. USDA before publishing any proposed or final rule-making actions.”

Opponents of the law believe this is an antiquated system with little to no economic benefit.

“The Raisin Marketing Order does not benefit the growers, but rather places a substantial and disproportionate burden on them,” said attorney Jessica Ring Amunson in a written brief representing more than 30 independent raisin growers.

“This case presents the important question of whether the federal government can seize ownership, each year, of a large portion of a farmer’s raisin crop without paying the just compensation required by the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment,” Horne’s attorney, Michael McConnell, wrote in another court brief.

McConnell argued the USDA paid farmers — like Horne — “nothing at all” for some of their raisins.

This isn’t Horne’s first raisin-related appearance at the high court. Justice Elena Kagan jokingly referred to the law as “the world’s most out-of-date law” two years ago after his case was tossed back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It’s such a bizarre situation,” said CATO Institute’s Editor-In-Chief Ilya Shapiro. “Whether you’re liberal, conservative, libertarian, it just sounds like a backward way of accomplishing whatever your goal might be.”

The U.S. produced more than 370,000 tons of raisins last year, but “the crop has struggled with the lack of water” in California, where U.S. production is forecast to drop 14 percent this year, according to the 2014 California Raisin Grape Objective Measurement Report.


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