Wickard v. Filburn

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Mulford v. Smith


Robert H. Jackson (1892—1954)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882—1945) American Democratic statesman, 32nd President of the US 1933–45

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317 U.S. 111 (1942), argued 4 May 1942, decided 9 Nov. 1942 by vote of 9 to 0; Jackson for the Court. Perhaps the decision that best indicated how completely the Supreme Court had come in acquiescing to the nationalist economic philosophy of President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress was Wickard v. Filburn. In this case, a unanimous court, speaking through Justice Robert Jackson, upheld important features of the Second Agricultural Adjustment Act (1938).

Previously, in Mulford v. Smith (1939), the Supreme Court had upheld the tobacco quotas set by the Second Agricultural Adjustment Act. Now the Court was asked to examine problems involving a more commonly grown crop—wheat. The specific question presented in Wickard was whether wheat that never left the farm should be subject to the marketing quotas established by the act.

The man who challenged the act's wheat quotas was Roscoe C. Filburn, a small Ohio farmer. Filburn maintained a herd of dairy cattle, raised poultry, and sold milk, poultry, and eggs in the open market. He planted a small acreage of winter wheat that he fed to his chickens and cattle, ground into flour for his family's consumption, and saved for the following year's seed. Filburn did not sell a single bushel of wheat in the open market. In 1941, Filburn sowed twelve acres of wheat more than he was permitted by Second Agricultural Adjustment Act's regulations. This unauthorized planting yielded 239 bushels of wheat, on which the federal government imposed a penalty of 49 cents a bushel. Filburn contested the government's assessment, arguing that the federal power to regulate commerce did not extend to the production and consumption of wheat that was never marketed.

When Filburn's challenge reached the Supreme Court in 1942, the tribunal had been dramatically refashioned by the appointments of President Roosevelt. The only justice whom Roosevelt had no hand in appointing to the Court that reviewed Filburn's case was Owen Roberts, the individual who had undergone the famous “switch in time that saved nine” in 1937. So, by 1942 the Supreme Court was very much “the Roosevelt Court.”

Following the logic of the important Commerce Clause case of United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941), Jackson held for the Court in Wickard that the quota on wheat authorized by the Second Agricultural Adjustment Act was constitutional under Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, which permitted Congress to “regulate Commerce … among the several States.” Jackson maintained that wheat consumed but not marketed still had an effect upon interstate commerce and thus could be regulated. Filburn's 239 bushels of home-consumed wheat might by itself have seemed trivial, but it was part of a much larger story. In the early 1940s more than 20 percent of all the wheat grown in the country never left the farm. By consuming their own grain, Filburn and thousands of farmers like him cut the overall demand and depressed the market price of wheat. Their actions clearly affected interstate commerce and were, Jackson concluded, subject to federal regulation.


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