Wickard v. Filburn Summary | quimbee.com

Wickard v. Filburn Summary | quimbee.com

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– [Instructor] Wickard versus Filburn. So who was Wickard and who was Filburn? Wickard was Claude R. Wickard,
the secretary of agriculture, and Filburn was Roscoe
Filburn, an Ohio wheat farmer. Filburn sued Wickard in his capacity as secretary of agriculture
to enjoin enforcement of the Agricultural
Adjustment Act of 1938. But in order to understand
why Filburn sued Wickard, it’s necessary to first explain what the Agricultural Adjustment
Act was and how it worked. Then we’ll talk about why
Filburn sued to enjoin enforcement of the act. The Agricultural Adjustment
Act was passed in 1938 in response to the
abnormally low crop prices on world markets at the time. In particular, and for our purposes, the Agricultural
Adjustment Act was intended to raise the price and
limit the supply of wheat. So that is raise the price and bring down the supply of wheat. And how did the Agricultural
Adjustment Act accomplish this? Well, one way was to simply pay farmers not to produce their crops. And in fact, if you look
down here at the bottom left, I found a picture online
showing farmers lining up for their AAA checks, which
were, in essence, subsidies that were intended to incentivize farmers not to grow their crops. The second way the
Agricultural Adjustment Act sought to decrease wheat
supplies was through the use of production quotas. That is, the secretary
had the power to determine the nationwide allotment of
acres for all wheat production. This national allotment
was then apportioned to the states and their counties, and then eventually to individual farms. Just to kind of draw
it out so you can see. There were national allotments, down to states, down to counties, and then each individual
farmer had his own allotment. If any farmer exceeded his allotment, a penalty would be imposed on
each excess bushel of wheat above the allotment. The quotas included not
only wheat sold, bartered, or exchanged in the market,
but included wheat grown for home consumption only. Or that is to say wheat
that would not be sold, but would be disposed of on
the farm where it was grown, either by feeding to livestock,
using it for seeding, or for just making flour. The penalties made no
distinction between whether the wheat was intended to be sold or not. And so with this background,
let’s take a look at the facts of the case. In June, 1940, Roscoe
Filburn received notice of his allotment for the 1941 crop season, and he was allotted 11.1
acres and an average yield of 20.1 bushels per acre. In the fall of 1940, he sowed
his wheat, as was his custom, intending to harvest it in July of 1941. Even though Filburn was
only allotted 11.1 acres for wheat production, he
actually sowed 23 acres, or that is 11.9 acres more
than he was supposed to sow. And from these 11.9 excess
acres, he harvested 239 bushels in excess of the quota, resulting
in a penalty of $117.11. Because recall that each excess
bushel incurred a penalty, and in this case, the penalty rate was
49 centers per bushel. So 239 times 49 cents per bushel amounts to the $117.11 penalty. So just to recap all of this. The 1941 crop season, Filburn was allotted 11.1 acres and instead he sowed 23 acres, growing 239 excess bushels. So Filburn challenges the
penalty in federal court, arguing that the
Agricultural Adjustment Act was an unconstitutional
and overly expansive use of Congress’ Commerce Clause powers. Filburn argued that the
Agricultural Adjustment Act regulated consumption
and production of wheat, specifically wheat grown
for home consumption and not intended for sale. And that growing wheat
for home consumption is an activity beyond congressional power under the Commerce Clause,
because it is purely local in character and its effects
on interstate commerce are at most, indirect. And the buzzwords here are indirect and local. Because these words were the touchstones of Commerce Clause analysis at the time. Wickard, in his defense, denies that the Agricultural Adjustment
Act regulated the consumption or production of wheat, and instead argues that it merely regulated
the marketing of wheat. Justice Jackson, writing
for a unanimous court, begins by pointing out that in prior cases dealing with Congress’
Commerce Clause powers, certain activities, such as
production, manufacturing, and mining were held to be
beyond Congress’ Commerce Clause powers because they were local activities having an indirect effect
on interstate commerce. But Jackson says that
these types of distinctions between indirect and direct,
or local and non-local, economic activities
are no longer relevant. Instead, Jackson says,
what’s relevant is whether the activity in question
has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. And that brings Jackson
to Filburn’s argument that his home consumption of
wheat is local in character and therefore outside of
Congress’ powers to regulate it. Jackson says that it very well
might be true, for instance, that Filburn’s home
consumption of wheat by itself is trivial, local, and
does not substantially affect interstate commerce. But Filburn’s home consumption,
taken together with all the other wheat farmers out there
growing for home consumption is not trivial and would, in
fact, substantially affect interstate commerce. In essence, Jackson is arguing that it is the cumulative effect, the cumulative effect
on the supply of wheat of all wheat farmers growing
for home consumption that allows Congress to regulate
the home consumption of wheat. And Jackson says that wheat
grown for home consumption substantially affects
interstate commerce in two ways. The first is that wheat farmers
who stockpile their wheat for home consumption might be tempted, if prices were to rise high enough, to sell that excess wheat on the market, thereby bringing down the price of wheat and undermining the Agricultural
Adjustment Act’s objective of increasing wheat prices. And the second is that
wheat farmers who grow for home consumption are
less likely to purchase wheat for themselves in the marketplace, and so that brings down demand for wheat. And so, in effect, home
consumption of wheat, Jackson says, has the potential effect
of increasing supply and/or decreasing demand. So why does home consumption affect interstate commerce? Jackson says because it
could increase supply and it could decrease demand. And all good economics students know that if you increase
supply and decrease demand, you tend to bring down the price of a particular good or service. Therefore, Jackson rules
in favor of Wickard and upholds the
Agricultural Adjustment Act as a valid exercise of Congress’
Commerce Clause powers. But why is Wickard versus
Filburn so important? Perhaps it’s because
it sits in a continuum of Commerce Clause cases
in the 20th century that defined and redefined
the scope of Congress’ Commerce Clause powers. Cases such as NLRB versus Jones and McLaughlin. This is 1937. And United States versus Darby, which was decided in 1941. And these cases held,
respectively, that Congress had the power under the Commerce Clause to regulate labor relations
and labor standards. Wickard is perhaps the high watermark of Commerce Clause power, saying
that Congress may regulate even activity that by itself
does not substantially affect interstate commerce, does not
enter the stream of commerce, and the effect of which is
indirect on interstate commerce. This idea of cumulative
effects of activity substantially affecting
interstate commerce was a very novel idea. It contrasts with the more
conservative Rehnquist court of the 1990s, which decided
cases such as Lopez in 1995 and Morrison in 1998, or excuse me in 2000, which reigned in the scope of Congress’ Commerce Clause powers. And Wickard also features
prominently in the court’s 2005 decision in Raich, which held that Congress could
regulate home gown marijuana under its Commerce Clause
powers for much the same reason that Justice Jackson said
that Congress could regulate home grown wheat. So that’s Wickard versus
Filburn in a nutshell. For more information
on the Commerce Clause, I direct you to Quimbee’s
constitutional lectures by Professor Stephen Vladeck
of American University. And in particular his two
clips on the Commerce Clause, which provide not only
an excellent overview of Commerce Clause jurisprudence, but also of Wickard versus Filburn.

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