Wickard v. Filburn
Litigants=Wickard v. Filburn
FullName=Claude R. Wickard, Secretary of Agriculture, et al. v. Roscoe C. Filburn
Citation=63 S. Ct. 82; 87 L. Ed. 122; 1942 U.S. LEXIS 1046
Prior=Injunction granted to plaintiff, "Filburn v. Helke", 43 F. Supp. 1017 (S.D. Ohio 1942)
Holding=Production quotas under the Agricultural Adjustment Act were constitutionally applied to agricultural production that was consumed purely intrastate, because its effect upon interstate commerce placed it within the power of Congress to regulate under the Commerce Clause. Southern District of Ohio reversed.
JoinMajority= Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Byrnes
LawsApplied=U.S. Const. amends. I, V; 7 U.S.C. § 1281, et. seq. (1941) (
Agricultural Adjustment Act)
"Wickard v. Filburn", 317 U.S. 111 (1942), is a United States Supreme Court decision interpreting the
Commerce Clauseof the United States Constitution, which permits the United States Congressto "regulate Commerce… among the several States."
Background of the case
Wickard v. Filburn must be read against the background of the great depression and the beginning of the Second world War. In his internet article on the Great Depression, Robert J. Samuelson writes:
It is hard for those who did not live through it to grasp the full force of the worldwide depression. Between 1930 and 1939 U.S. unemployment averaged 18.2 percent. The economy's output of goods and services (gross national product) declined 30 percent between 1929 and 1933 and recovered to the 1929 level only in 1939. Prices of almost everything (farm products, raw materials, industrial goods, stocks) fell dramatically. Farm prices, for instance, dropped 51 percent from 1929 to 1933. World trade shriveled: between 1929 and 1933 it shrank 65 percent in dollar value and 25 percent in unit volume. Most nations suffered. In 1932 Britain's unemployment was 17.6 percent. Germany's depression hastened the rise of Hitler and, thereby, contributed to World War II. [http://www.econlib.org/LIBRARY/Enc/GreatDepression.html]
Congress had passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and portions of its provisions were ruled unconstitutional by the Court in 1936, leading to passage of curative amendments by Congress in the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act. The
Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938limited the area that farmers could devote to wheat production. The stated purpose of the act was to stabilize the price of wheat in the national market by controlling the amount of wheat produced. The motivation behind the Act was a belief by Congress that great international fluctuations in the supply and demand for wheat were leading to wide swings in the price of wheat. The Supreme Court's decision states that the parties had stipulated as to the economic conditions leading to passage of the legislation:
The parties have stipulated a summary of the economics of the wheat industry......The wheat industry has been a problem industry for some years. Largely as a result of increased foreign production and import restrictions, annual exports of wheat and flour from the United States during the ten-year period ending in 1940 averaged less than 10 percent of total production, while, during the 1920s, they averaged more than 25 percent. The decline in the export trade has left a large surplus in production which, in connection with an abnormally large supply of wheat and other grains in recent years, caused congestion in a number of markets; tied up railroad cars, and caused elevators in some instances to turn away grains, and railroads to institute embargoes to prevent further congestion.
Many countries, both importing and exporting, have sought to modify the impact of the world market conditions on their own economy. Importing countries have taken measures to stimulate production and self-sufficiency. The four large exporting countries of Argentina, Australia, Canada, and the United States have all undertaken various programs for the relief of growers. Such measures have been designed, in part at least, to protect the domestic price received by producers. Such plans have generally evolved towards control by the central government. In the absence of regulation, the price of wheat in the United States would be much affected by world conditions. During 1941, producers who cooperated with the Agricultural Adjustment program received an average price on the farm of about $1.16 a bushel, as compared with the world market price of 40 cents a bushel.
The goal of the legislation was to limit the total production of wheat, so that the supply and demand of wheat would be stabilized, thus ending the cycle of broad price swings that were deemed to be destructive of the farm economy.
Roscoe Filburn was a farmer who produced wheat in excess of the amount permitted. Filburn however, argued that because the excess wheat was produced for his private consumption on his own farm, it never entered commerce at all, much less interstate commerce, and therefore was not a proper subject of federal regulation under the Commerce Clause.
Amount of wheat at issue
In July 1940, pursuant to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, Filburn's 1941 allotment was established at convert|11.1|acre|m2 and a normal yield of 20.1
bushels of wheat an acre. Filburn was given notice of the allotment in July 1940 before the Fall planting of his 1941 crop of wheat, and again in July 1941, before it was harvested. Despite these notices Filburn planted 23 acres and harvested 239 bushels from his convert|11.9|acre|m2 of excess area. [Chen (2003).]
The Federal District Court ruled in favor of Filburn. The Act required affirmative vote of farmers by plebiscite, in order to implement the quota. Much of the District Court decision related to the way in which the Secretary of Agriculture had campaigned for passage: The District Court had held that the Secretary's comments were improper. The government then appealed to the
Supreme Court of the United States, which made short work of that part of the District Court holding against the campaign methods which led to passage of the quota by farmers.
The Court's decision
The intended rationale of the Agricultural Adjustment Act is to stabilize the price of wheat on the national market. The federal government has the power to regulate interstate commerce through the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution. In "Filburn" the Court unanimously reasoned that the power to regulate the price at which commerce occurs was inherent in the power to regulate commerce.
Filburn argued that since the excess wheat he produced was intended solely for home consumption it could not be regulated through the interstate commerce clause. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, reasoning that if Filburn had not used home-grown wheat he would have had to buy wheat on the open market. This effect on interstate commerce, the Court reasoned, may not be substantial from the actions of Filburn alone but through the cumulative actions of thousands of other farmers just like Filburn its effect would certainly become substantial. Therefore Congress could regulate wholly intrastate, non-commercial activity if such activity, viewed in the aggregate, would have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, even if the individual effects are trivial.
Some of the parties argument had focused on prior decisions, especially dormant commerce clause decisions, in which the Court had tried to focus on whether a commercial activity was local or not local. Justice Jackson's decision rejects that approach as too formalistic:
The Government's concern lest the Act be held to be a regulation of production or consumption rather than of marketing is attributable to a few dicta and decisions of this Court which might be understood to lay it down that activities such as 'production,' 'manufacturing,' and 'mining' are strictly 'local' and, except in special circumstances which are not present here, cannot be regulated under the commerce power because their effects upon interstate commerce are, as matter of law, only 'indirect.' Even today, when this power has been held to have great latitude, there is no decision of this Court that such activities may be regulated where no part of the product is intended for interstate commerce or intermingled with the subjects thereof. We believe that a review of the course of decision under the Commerce Clause will make plain, however, that questions of the power of Congress are not to be decided by reference to any formula which would give controlling force to nomenclature such as 'production' and 'indirect' and foreclose consideration of the actual effects of the activity in question upon interstate commerce.
The issue was not how one characterized the activity as local, but rather whether the activity "exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce":
Whether the subject of the regulation in question was 'production,' 'consumption,' or 'marketing' is, therefore, not material for purposes of deciding the question of federal power before us. That an activity is of local character may help in a doubtful case to determine whether Congress intended to reach it.... But even if appellee's activity be local and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce and this irrespective of whether such effect is what might at some earlier time have been defined as 'direct' or 'indirect.'
Here, the regulation of local production of wheat was rationally related to Congress's goal: to stabilize prices by limiting the total supply of wheat produced and consumed. It was clear, the Court held,
"that a factor of such volume and variability as home-consumed wheat would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. ..... Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. The stimulation of commerce is a use of the regulatory function quite as definitely as prohibitions or restrictions thereon. This record leaves us in no doubt that Congress may properly have considered that wheat consumed on the farm where grown, if wholly outside the scheme of regulation, would have a substantial effect in defeating and obstructing its purpose to stimulate trade therein at increased prices.
It has been argued that Wickard marked the end to any limits on Congress's commerce clause powers. The Court's own decision, however, emphasizes the role of democratic electoral processes in confining the abuse of the Congressional power, stating that, "At the beginning Chief Justice Marshall described the Federal commerce power with a breadth never yet exceeded. He made emphatic the embracing and penetrating nature of this power by warning that effective restraints on its exercise must proceed from political rather than from judicial processes." One commentator has written: “In the wake of "Jones & Laughlin" and "Wickard [v. Filburn] ", it has become clear that… Congress has authority to regulate virtually all private economic activity.” [Earl M. Maltz as quoted in footnote 223 of Chen (2003).] Justice Rehnquist's opinion in United States v. Lopez explains:
Jones & Laughlin Steel, Darby, and Wickard ushered in an era of Commerce Clause jurisprudence that greatly expanded the previously defined authority of Congress under that Clause. In part, this was a recognition of the great changes that had occurred in the way business was carried on in this country. Enterprises that had once been local or at most regional in nature had become national in scope. But the doctrinal change also reflected a view that earlier Commerce Clause cases artificially had constrained the authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.
In the landmark 1995 case of "
United States v. Lopez", the first decision in six decades to invalidate a federal statute on the grounds that it exceeded the power of the United States Congressunder the commerce clauseof the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court described "Wickard v. Filburn" as "perhaps the most far reaching example of commerce clauseauthority over intrastate commerce." The Supreme Court majority that decided the 2005 case " Gonzales v. Raich" relied heavily on "Filburn" in upholding the power of the federal government to prosecute individuals who grow their own medicinal marijuana pursuant to state law. In "Raich", the court held that, as with the home grown wheat at issue in "Filburn", home grown marijuana is a legitimate subject of federal regulation because it competes with marijuana that moves in interstate commerce. As the Court explained in Gonzalez:
Wickard thus establishes that Congress can regulate purely intrastate activity that is not itself “commercial,” in that it is not produced for sale, if it concludes that failure to regulate that class of activity would undercut the regulation of the interstate market in that commodity.
List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 317
Gonzalez v. Raich" (2005)
*cite journal | last = Chen | first = Jim | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2003 | month = | title = "Filburn"′s Legacy | journal = Emory Law Journal | volume = 52 | issue = | pages = 1719 | id = | url = http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=901026 | accessdate = | quote =
*cite journal |last=Chen |first=Jim |authorlink= |coauthor= |year=2009 |month= |title=The Story of "Wickard v. Filburn": Agriculture, Aggregation, and Commerce |journal= |volume= |issue= |pages= |id= |url=http://ssrn.com/abstract=1268162 |accessdate= |quote= In cite book |title=Constitutional Law Stories |last=Dorf |first=Michael C. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2009 |publisher=Foundation Press |location= |isbn= |pages=
*cite book |title=How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution |last=Epstein |first=Richard A. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2006 |publisher=Cato Institute |location=Washington |isbn=1930865872 |pages=
*cite book |title=American Constitutional Law |volume=2 |edition=2nd edition |last=Kommers |first=D. P. |authorlink= |coauthors=Finn, J. E.; Jacobsohn, G. J. |year=2004 |publisher=Rowman & Littlefield |location=Boston |isbn=0742526887 |pages=
*cite book |chapter=Regulating Interstate Commerce |title=The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom |last=Levy |first=Robert A. |authorlink=Robert A. Levy |coauthors=Mellor, William H. |year=2008 |publisher=Sentinel |location=New York |isbn=9781595230508 |pages=37–49
case="Wickard v. Filburn", 317 U.S. 111 (1942)
* [http://www.oyez.org/oyez/resource/case/443/ oyez.org on the case (short)]
* [http://www.law.louisville.edu/constitution-day/gallery/roscoe-filburn Roscoe Filburn and his wheat]
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