• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court used a broad interpretation of the commerce clause to uphold the constitutionality of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938.

In striking down the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 in United States v. Butler[case]Butler, United States v.[Butler, United States v.] (1936), the Court held that Congress could not use its taxing powers to regulate agricultural production, a power that was reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, like the earlier act, attempted to increase farm prices by limiting productivity. In passing the 1938 law, however, Congress did not pay for the program with a special tax. The major provision of the law was a system of assigning marketing quotas for commodities that were destined to be sold in interstate commerce.Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938Commerce, regulation of;Mulford v. Smith[Mulford v. Smith]Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938

Writing for a 7-2 majority, Justice Owen J. RobertsRoberts, Owen J.;Mulford v. Smith[Mulford v. Smith] reasoned that the second act was only a regulation of the commodities that flow into interstate commerce. He found that the objective of the law was not to control production but rather to prevent the injury of depressed prices that occurred when an excessive level of commodities flooded the interstate market. By avoiding any consideration of the Tenth Amendment, Roberts managed to uphold the second act without directly reversing his written opinion in Butler. Expanding on the Mulford ruling in Wickard v. Filburn[case]Wickard v. Filburn[Wickard v. Filburn] (1942), the Court abandoned the indirect/direct distinction, and defended the agricultural act because of its “substantial economic effect” on interstate commerce.

Agricultural issues

Butler, United States v.

Commerce, regulation of

Darby Lumber Co., United States v.

New Deal

Wickard v. Filburn

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