Sweet court victory for liberty

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld what had seemed a quixotic rebellion of a California raisin grower. The farmer had rightly challenged federal rules that he must give up a portion of his raisin crop on demand, without compensation.

The court ruled by an 8-1 margin, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor the lone dissenter, that the federal regulations — in force for the last 66 years — were a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling was a sweet victory for Marvin Horne, who had to fight an 11-year legal battle to prevail and get the government’s $680,00 fine cancelled — including going twice to the Supreme Court.

But the court’s decision also likely has much wider application and could restrict other overreaching government property seizures as well, including some abuses by police departments. Altogether, it was a victory not just for the raisin grower but for liberty.

The ruling invalidates the federal “marketing order” for raisins, which can require growers to surrender some of their product to a government agency.

The ruling should require the U.S. Agriculture Department to modify other marketing orders based on what is called the “volume control” approach to stabilizing agricultural prices.

Mr. Horne contended that the marketing order was an unconstitutional “taking.”

In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling blocking his constitutional claim and sent the case back for rehearing. The lower court then upheld the Justice Department’s argument that the marketing order was not a “taking.”

But when Mr. Horne again appealed to the Supreme Court, it agreed with him.

The justices ruled that the crop-seizure method of the marketing order clearly constituted a physical taking, and in failing to compensate the Hornes (and other growers) ran afoul of the “Takings Clause” of the Fifth Amendment, which says that private property shall not be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Until now, the Takings Clause has mainly been held to apply only to real estate. But the court agreed that it also applies to any personal property taken by the government. Citing precedents ranging from the Magna Carta to a 1779 South Carolina law, Chief Justice John Roberts declared that the Takings Clause clearly establishes that “the government has a categorical duty to pay just compensation when it takes your car just as when it takes your home.”

The reference to “your car” could be aimed at a practice in some police departments of seizing vehicles and other property without a conviction for any crime. If so, it could help reverse what has been a growing abuse of power during the “War on Drugs.”

Mr. Horne deserves praise for sticking up for his constitutional rights.

And the high court deserves credit for reviving the proper meaning of the Takings Clause.