SCOTUS and the Grapes of Wrath

Raisin ImageIf you experienced life in the 1980s or just love nostalgia, you most likely remember the dancing California Raisins or at least you heard about them through the grapevine. It all started in 1986 with a single commercial of four claymation raisins dancing and singing classic rock songs. The raisins were an instant phenomenon and they got America moving. Literally, raisins are great for the colon and help our digestion. Anyway, soon toys of the famous California Raisins were flying off the shelves. This singing quartet was everywhere. They were on shirts, hats, numerous TV commercials, TV shows, toys, and even five albums! Well, real raisins are making headlines again. Only this time, a law dating back to the Great Depression has bound up the United States Supreme Court.

The Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 (AMMA) was enacted to help stabilize the economy of some commodities like raisins by keeping a varying percentage of them off the market to increase raisin prices. Basic economic principles tell us that when too many raisins are produced, prices decline. In 1949, the raisin industry voted to implement a raisin marketing order. The idea was that if a percentage of raisins were kept in reserve, the raisins that go to market would bring higher prices for the growers. The raisins held back were under the administration of the Raisin Administrative Committee (RAC). Any raisin handler that didn’t comply faced a penalty.

Recently California has faced drought and often underproduction of raisins. When this act was started there were raisin producers and raisin handlers. The handlers, or those who sold the raisins, were subject to the reserve requirement. Marvin Horne, a producer and handler of raisins from Fresno CA, claimed he was exempt because he produced and processed his own raisins. He was both producer and handler. The Department of Agriculture promptly slapped a $700,000 fine on Horne!

Horne sued the Department of Agriculture and claimed that the Marketing Order violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment and he should be exempt from the Marketing Order because he processed his own raisins. This case’s vine has now traveled through the district court which sided with the Department of Agriculture. Then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also determined that this was not a taking and therefore also sided with the Department of Agriculture. However, they then decided it had no jurisdiction. Finally on Friday, April 22, 2015, Horne v. Department of Agriculture, No. 14-275, was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. They will decide if there is a Constitutional issue. Can the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment apply to only real property? Can the government avoid compensating Horne for the physical taking of his raisins by reserving him a contingent interest in the value of his raisins?

Thankfully, the highest court in the land has taken on this “landmark” case. Maybe more important, could the famous California Raisins reunite to support the cause and give this Minecraft generation a taste of 1980s pop culture, or has their popularity dried up forever?

UPDATE: READ Opinion here:

SPOILER ALERT: The raisin farmers won.

If you enjoyed this post please go to the Ruth Lilly Law Library homepage and read all of my posts:

Information for this post came from the following resources:

The Oyez Project at Chicago-Kent College of Law:

“Supreme Court Hears Appeal in Raisin Case” by Adam Liptak in The New York Times:

Horne v. Department of Agriculture Supreme Court Transcript:

Horne v. Department of Agriculture Supreme Court Audio: Horne v. Department of Agriculture:


About John W. Davis III

I am passionate about legal research, legal librarianship and scholarship, Intellectual Property, U.S. History, fine art, reading, and most sports. I have over 9 years of research and library experience and a unique history that has taken me from running my own fine art business to meeting Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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This entry was posted on May 26, 2015 by in History and tagged , , .

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