Quote of the Day:

It only took 78 years, but on Monday the Supreme Court overturned a New Deal relic that confiscated private property in order to raise prices. Hear, hear. The 8-1 decision is an important vindication of the Fifth Amendment as a bulwark against the abuse of government power.

–the Wall Street Journal editorial headlined “Raison Owners in the Sun”

It was a good day for liberty when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of California raisin growers Marvin and Laura Horne, who every year saw a kleptocratic federal agency, the improbably named Raisin Administrative Committee, seize half their crop, without paying them a dime.

The Raisin Administrative Committee is a relict of the New Deal, which was set up to regulate the raisin supply and keep prices artificially high. Apparently, the Hornes would prefer retaining and selling their own crop to artificially high prices. Ditto people who like to eat raisins.

It was an eight to one ruling by the High Court, and somehow you knew even before even finishing the article that the dissenting opinion was by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. More on her reasons in a minute.

It was a heartening ruling. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, went back to the Magna Carta, that cornerstone of Western liberty, which celebrated its eight hundredth birthday last week, to explain why the Hornes had a right to their own property. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote (via Iain Murray in National Review Online):

The Takings Clause provides: “[N]or shall private prop­erty be taken for public use, without just compensation.” U.S. Const., Amdt. 5. It protects “private property” with­out any distinction between different types. The principle reflected in the Clause goes back at least 800 years to Magna Carta, which specifically protected agricultural crops from uncompensated takings.

Clause 28 of that charter forbade any “constable or other bailiff” from taking “corn or other provisions from any one without immediately tendering money therefor, unless he can have post­ponement thereof by permission of the seller.” Cl. 28 (1215), in W. McKechnie, Magna Carta, A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John 329 (2d ed. 1914). The colonists brought the principles of Magna Carta with them to the New World, including that charter’s protection against uncompensated takings of personal property. In 1641, for example, Massachusetts adopted its Body of Liberties, prohibiting “mans Cattel or goods of what kinde soever” from being “pressed or taken for any publique use or service, unlesse it be by warrant grounded upon some act of the generall Court, nor without such reasonable prices and hire as the ordinarie rates of the Countrie do afford.”

Iain Murray comments:

So any reasonable student of jurisprudence should have realized that the activities of the RAC were patently unconstitutional. However, property rights are in such a parlous state in the United States that the Ninth Circuit and even Justice Sotomayor disagree that raisin farmers are due any compensation at all. And the other liberal justices who agreed with the Chief Justice would still have seen the case remanded to the Circuit Court for further deliberations as to the “right” level of compensation.

Murray points out that another clause in the Magna Carta led Chief Justice Roberts to oppose returning the case to a lower court. The Magna Carta states, “To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice.” This case has been dragging on for more than a decade, at great financial cost to the Horne family.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts stressed property rights as a bedrock value in U.S. law. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, however, saw it differently: if the federal agency gave a token of the value of the confiscated property to the owners, then that was enough. Ever how token the “payment,” it is enough for Justice Sotomayor to view it as a “meaningful property interest.”  The Wall Street Journal notes:

Justice Sotomayor would effectively replace “just compensation” with an offer of scrip. Classic government takings that the Constitution is supposed to prohibit could suddenly be justified by reserving to owners some vestigial or theoretical stake in the disposition of their property. The majority was wise to avoid creating this loophole.  

We should all thank the Horne family for not losing heart and pursuing this to the Supreme Court.