We took note last week of the plight of the Sowers family, proprietors of South Mountain Creamery.

A Washington Post story explained that the federal government confiscated $29,000 of the Sowers family’s profits under a law designed to target money laundering. So far the family has not been able to get any of the money back.

Marvin and Laura Horne own a vineyard in California, but they don’t get to sell their raison crop as they would like because every year the federal Raisin Administrative Committee, a holdover from the Depression, takes nearly half their crop.

It’s all quite simple. Reason magazine explained the process:

Every year, the Hornes plant seeds, tie vines, harvest fruit, and place grapes in paper trays to create sun-dried raisins. And every year, the federal government prevents them from bringing their full harvest to market.

Is there a theme here?

George Will wrote a column yesterday on the Hornes’ ongoing legal battles headlined “Shriveled Grapes, Shriveled Liberty.” The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday on what Will describes as the federal government’s “kleptocratic behavior while administering an indefensible law.”

The government confiscates the Hornes’ raisons under a New Deal law that has lived longer than it should have. Will explains:

New Dealers had bushels of theories, including this: In an economic depression, prices fall, so a recovery will occur when government compels prices to stabilize above where a free market would put them. So Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “brains trust” produced “price stabilization” programs by which the government would fine-tune the supply of and demand for various commodities. In 1949, this regulatory itch was institutionalized in the Raisin Administrative Committee (RAC).

Today it wants the Hornes to ante up about $700,000. They could instead have turned over more than 1 million pounds of raisins — at least four years of their production.

They have been refusing to comply with a “marketing order” to surrender, without compensation, a portion of their production for the RAC’s raisin “reserve.” The Hornes say this order constitutes an unconstitutional taking.

The Fifth Amendment stipulated that property could not be taken from citizens without just compensation and that the property had to be taken for public use. This was watered down and government given considerably more power to take private property in the notorious 2005 Kelo decision, according to which the government could confiscate property and give it to somebody else who would use the property in a way the government liked better because it generated more tax revenue. The government claims that it must take the Hornes’ raisins to regulate the raisin trade.

Will concludes:

The government says it owes the Hornes nothing in exchange for the raisins they supposedly owe it, because they somehow benefit from the government’s manipulation of the raisin market. The Hornes say it would be unconstitutional for the government to come on their land to confiscate their raisins or the proceeds from their raisin sales, so it is unconstitutional to fine them for not complying with an unconstitutional requirement.

Justice Elena Kagan has wondered whether this case involves “a taking or it’s just the world’s most outdated law.” The answer is: Both. The law has spawned more than 25 “marketing orders” covering almonds, apricots, avocados, cherries, cranberries, dates, grapes, hazelnuts, kiwifruit, onions, pears, pistachios, plums, spearmint oil, walnuts and other stuff.

Government sprawl and meddlesomeness mock the idea that government is transparent. There are not enough cells in the human brain to enable Americans to know more than a wee fraction of what their government is up to. If they did know, they would know something useful — how much of what government does is a compound of the simply silly and the slightly sinister. The silly: Try to imagine the peril from which we are protected because the government maintains a spearmint oil reserve. The sinister: The government is bullying and stealing property to maintain programs that make Americans pay higher commodity prices than a free market would set.

Progressives say, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” That is not how the Hornes are experiencing government.