A 66-year-old program that lets the government take raisins away from farmers to help reduce supply and boost market prices is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled today. In an 8-1 ruling, the justices said forcing raisin growers to give up part of their annual crop without full payment is an illegal confiscation of private property. The ruling is a victory for California farmers Marvin Horne—the greatest "outlaw ... in the world of dried fruit," as the Washington Post described him in 2013—and his wife. They claimed they were losing money under a 1940s-era program that gives the USDA the ability to seize a portion of farmers' raisin crops if it believes supply will outpace demand; the fruit is deposited in locations around California, where it can be sold to foreigners, fed to cows, or just sit.
The Hornes were fined $695,000 for trying to get around the program after they refused to participate in 2003 and 2004, years in which raisin production far exceeded the expected demand. In that latter year, farmers gave up 30% of the crop and were paid nothing. Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected the government's argument that the Hornes voluntarily chose to participate in the raisin market and have the option of selling different crops if they don't like it. "'Let them sell wine' is probably not much more comforting to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history," Roberts said. "Property rights cannot be so easily manipulated." Only a small number of other crops are regulated in the same way, though federal officials say most of those programs are not active. Read more on the program and ruling here. (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)