Yet again the unanimous Supreme Court has slapped down a government attempt to deprive property owners of their civil rights. What was at stake in Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture wasn’t even the property – raisins! – but the mere ability to challenge the government’s desire to take that property without meaningful judicial review.
Nobody should have to suffer a needless, Rube Goldberg-style litigation process to vindicate their constitutional rights. Yet that’s exactly what the U.S. Department of Agriculture sought to impose on raisin farmers Marvin and Laura Horne when they protested the enforcement of a USDA “marketing order” that demanded that the Hornes turn over 47% of their crop without compensation.
These New Deal-era regulations are bad enough – forcing raisin “handlers” to turn over some of their crop to the government so it can control raisin supply and price – but here the government kept throwing up obstacles to the Hornes’ attempts to assert that they shouldn’t legally be subject to them. The government demanded about $650,000 from the Hornes and didn’t want to give them a day in court until they paid the money and jumped through assorted administrative hoops.
The Supreme Court correctly rejected that absurd position and reversed the California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that upheld it, reinforcing the line drawn by five other circuit courts. “In the case of an administrative enforcement proceeding,” Justice Thomas wrote on all his colleagues’ behalf, “when a party raises a constitutional defense to an assessed fine, it would make little sense to require the party to pay the fine in one proceeding and then turn around and sue for recovery of that same money in another.”
Indeed, there’s no reason to treat Fifth Amendment takings claims any differently than lawsuits against government violations of other constitutional provisions.