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Hidden in the tottering mountain range of federal regulations is the sinister-sounding Marketing Order 989. This rule empowers the Marketing Order and Agreement Division of the Fruit and Vegetable Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to manage a National Raisin Reserve.
That’s right, America: We’re $18 trillion in debt but our government pays for a National Raisin Reserve.
The sub-sub-sub-division of the USDA even created a 35-person Raisin Administrative Committee to oversee our strategic supply of dried grapes. In this Truman-era scheme, the federal government seizes a large percentage of every farmer’s crop in order to prop up prices.
Surely, Obama’s various “Smarter Government” initiatives must have laughed at the ridiculous raisin cartel and ordered it dismantled, right?
Believe it or not, President MENSA thought it was just swell and spent untold piles of Chinese cash defending it in court, even hiring private investigators to harass Dangerous Enemies of the Raisin Cartel.
California farmer Marvin Horne is America’s leading raisin dissident. For years, the 70-year-old allowed the government to seize a percentage of his harvest. Those stolen raisins were placed into the reserve and he had to eat the cost, so to speak. All farmers just considered this theft the price of doing business until 2002 when Horne said no.
“I believe in America. And I believe in our Constitution. And I believe that eventually we will be proved right,” Horne said. “They took our raisins and didn’t pay us for them.”
“The hell with the whole mess,” he said, “it’s like being a serf.”
Shocked at the serf’s insolence, the U.S. government demanded Horne pay $650,000 in fines and surrender 1.2 million pounds of raisins. That equals four years of harvests.
The farmer lost every court case until he reached the Supreme Court. Justices from the left and right were amazed that the program even existed.
Justice Antonin Scalia called it “a crazy statute.” Justices Breyer and Sotomayor insisted that Horne have the ability to “challenge this scheme.” Even Justice Kagan wondered “whether this marketing order is a taking or it’s just the world’s most outdated law.” They kicked it back to the Ninth Circuit to make a decision, but the USDA had the power to end it any time they wanted.
When the Ninth Circuit again blessed the silly scheme, SCOTUS voted 5-4 to declare the raisin regulation unconstitutional and said that Horne and other farmers had to be paid for their seized product.
“The reserve requirement imposed by the Raisin Committee is a clear physical taking,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “The Hornes should simply be relieved of the obligation to pay the fine and associated civil penalty they were assessed when they resisted the government’s effort to take their raisins.”
After an 11-year battle with the USDA, the raisin dissident was jubilant. “I’m elated,” Horne said. “The monkey is off my back. I think it’s a great ruling for everybody; if you want my raisins, pay for them.”