Monday, June 22, 2015

Raisin Reason Restored!

A couple of years ago I mocked a federal program called the Raisin Administrative Committee, a group which simply took away raisins from their growers without any payment in order to keep the prices artificially high. A raisin grower had decided, back in 2002, that he had enough of that nonsense, sold his entire raisin crop instead of shipping it off to the feds, and gotten himself cited for doing so. He then sued the RAC and the Supreme Court, in a display of common sense broken not unexpectedly by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, agreed this week that the federal government can't take your stuff without paying for it.

The original story I read had the RAC as a wartime-era program, put in place in order to keep the market prices from collapsing after the government stopped buy raisins to send to GIs overseas during World War II. Today's stories say it stretches back into New Deal territory, which simply means that the federal government has been demonstrating cluelessness since before World War II, and few people who've heard of the Dred Scott decision or Woodrow Wilson's 1918 Sedition Act could argue otherwise.

The RAC, perhaps hoping to hide awhile in the woodwork, had not ordered raisin producers to contribute to a reserve since the 2009-2010 season and instead set production limits. Chief Justice John Roberts noted that the effect might be the same, but taking property away without paying for it was a no-no in the Constitution and in fact was one of the things King John of England agreed he wouldn't do when he signed Magna Carta in 1215. Production limits are perfectly legal.

Justice Sotomayor said that the growers retained some property rights over the raisins after the RAC hauled them off and therefore it wasn't the kind of taking the Constitution forbids. I looked at a couple of other stories about this decision and couldn't find exactly what property rights were retained; the growers could not keep or sell the raisins and I'm not sure what other choices were available. Maybe they were given a key to the RAC warehouse and told they and a guest could snack whenever they wanted to.

The decision does not eliminate the RAC, which is good news and bad news. The good news is that people who aren't qualified for most real jobs still have a federal agency for which they can work. The bad news is that we still have to pay for it.

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