California raisin grower Marvin Horne is taking his fight to prevent the federal government from grabbing the fruits of his labor without “just compensation” all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1937 Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act (AMMA) is an 80-year old federal law that allows the federal government to take almost half of the raisins harvested, and Horne feels such an act violated the Fifth Amendment rights of raisin producers.
Marvin Horne told the federal government they will no longer turn over 47 percent of their raisin crop to the USDA each year during his 10-year battle to keep all the profits from his raisin harvest. The little known Depression-era law pertaining to raisin growers allows the United States Department of Agriculture to seize nearly half of raisin farmers’ crops each year to “hold in reserve,” thus manipulating the supply and market price. The federal raisin law was crafted to avoid a “raisin glut” and allows the federal government to use the proceeds to help the industry promote raisin consumption in foreign markets.
Up to 47 percent of the raisin crops the growers are mandated to give up annually ultimately wind up being sold to foreign buyers at minimal costs or given to the public school system. The small amount of money raisin farmers were eventually given by the federal government for nearly half their yield has dwindled significantly in recent years.
During his fight with the federal government, California raisin producer Marvin Horne first claimed he was not subject to the law, and then later maintained that the law is unconstitutional. Horne first ran afoul of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2002, when the federal agency attempted to take 47 percent of his raisin crop. He began organizing opposition to the federal raisin law and established the Raisin Valley Marketing Association, a coalition of 61 raisin growers in Fresno and Madera counties.
Marvin Horne had this to say about the federal government taking his raisins.
“I didn’t choose to fight. All I choose to do is pack and market my own raisins. They’re the ones who picked the fight. USDA and the Raisin Administrative Order picked the fight, not me. The h**l with the whole mess. It’s like being a serf. I believe in America and I believe in our Constitution. And I believe that eventually we will be proved right. They took our raisins and didn’t pay us for them.”
Horne and his wife, Laura, said that as producers, they were not subject to the government raisin seizure program. However, the USDA disagreed and still demanded the raisin crop. When Horne refused, the federal agency imposed $700,000 in fines and penalties against him. Horne is arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court that the “raisin raid” violates his Constitutional rights.
When the lifelong California raisin growing couple found out that they were to get absolutely no compensation for the government mandated crop turnover, they decided to fight back in a court of law.
“A lot of [us] all jumped up and yelled, and said, ‘No, it’s crazy. What’s the matter with you guys?’ ” Horne told NPR. “It was no avail, and that’s when I came home, and I talked with my wife, and we said, ‘No, we’re not going to deliver.’ “
Marvin Horne, of Fresno, is both a “handler” and a “producer” of raisins. The two raisin producing occupations are reportedly treated differently under the New Deal-era policy. Raisin producers grow grapes and handlers dry and package them, according to the official designation of the two occupational task. The raisin law permits the federal government to seize up to 47 percent of a handler’s goods, “depending on market conditions,” during any given year. The raisins seized by the government are then reportedly “warehoused for months or years” and then sold back to raisin handlers, who are then permitted sell them on the international market.
“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,” Marvin Horne’s attorney, Michael McConnell, stated in a court brief in the “raisin raids” case.
Ninety-nine percent of the raisins consumed in America are grown in California, according to USDA statistics.
During a 2013 hearing in the raisin producer’s case, the Supreme Court decided to send the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal for a ruling. Justice Elena Kagan said that the lower court should determine if the law was unconstitutional or just “the world’s most out-of-date law.” The Ninth Circuit Court decided that the “Takings Clause” does not apply to raisins. The appeals court also ruled that even if the clause did apply, the government’s “withholding of raisins from the market” created “just compensation” for the raisins because in doing so the market price that raisins were allowed to be sold for was increased.
“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,” a USDA spokesman told the media.
“The Raisin Marketing Order does not benefit the growers, but rather places a substantial and disproportionate burden on them,” attorney Jessica Ring Amunson said in a written brief that represented the sentiments of more than 30 independent raisin growers.