Matters relating to the production of food crops from the land and the raising of livestock.
As long as agriculture was largely a subsistence activity, it was generally held to be a matter of purely local concern in which the states had exclusive jurisdiction. However, as agriculture became increasingly commercialized, especially after the Civil War (1861-1864) when the national railroad network was completed, matters affecting agriculture through commerce in farm products came increasingly to the Supreme Court’s attention.
The first of the agriculture-related cases to come before the Court were the Slaughterhouse Cases
The second case before the Court involved the regulation of trade
The Court, although generally conservative in its outlook, responded to the demands of society for the regulation of commercial products that involved the health and safety of the public. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was upheld by the Court in Hipolite Egg Co. v. United States in 1911. In Hipolite, the Court gave expression to a federal police power when the commerce in question was undeniably interstate. In 1915 in Hadacheck v. Sebastian, the Court ruled that the states had the power to condemn diseased animals, even without compensation.
In Frost v. Oklahoma Corporation Commission
Roosevelt brought about an effective reconstitution of the Court by replacing seven of its justices between 1937 and 1941, exchanging the Court’s extreme conservatism for a more liberal outlook. Even before the shift, in St. Joseph Stock Yards Co. v. United States
After 1937 the Department of Agriculture developed an elaborate system of market regulation of the commerce in agricultural products, to which the Court made few objections. The Court, however, did police some agricultural operations that appeared to be taking advantage of exemptions from antitrust rules provided as long ago as the Capper-Volstead Act
Marketing orders (under which producers of various agricultural products have been effectively compelled to join cooperatives that set prices for the product and exclude nonmembers from participation) have generally passed Court muster, but some orders have produced controversy and in a few cases litigation. The system provides for the participants to underwrite, from their sales receipts, some of the costs of administering the marketing orders. One of the most controversial of the marketing orders has been that governing milk, which attempted to set prices based in part on the distance of the ultimate market from the primary dairy region of the United States in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This system has led to complaints from some dairy groups that they cannot recover higher production costs because the pricing is tied to the primary dairy area where production costs are low. In Massachusetts, to stem the loss of dairy farmers, the Massachusetts Dairy Equalization Fund was created to help Massachusetts dairy farmers meet the higher costs of dairying in New England. However, in West Lynn Dairy v. Healy
Another challenge to the system of marketing orders was brought in Dan Glickman v. Wileman Bros. and Elliott, et al.
The best general account of agricultural law is Donald B. Pedersen and Keith G. Meyer’s Agricultural Law in a Nutshell (St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1995). The book contains a long list of cases, the overwhelming majority of which were heard either in state courts or in the lower federal courts, but a few did reach the Supreme Court. Elder Witt’s Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1990) is a vast compendium, with a brief historical introduction and a discussion of the various powers of the government. The major decisions of the Court appear with other relevant documents. The book contains a subject index and a list of cases at the rear. John R. Schmidhauser deals with the issue of the Court’s effect on federal-state relations in The Supreme Court as Final Arbiter in Federal-State Relations, 1789-1957 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958). Lawyers J. W. Looney and Donald B. Uchtmann’s Agricultural Law: Principles and Cases (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990) looks at the law and agriculture, but the cases cited are mostly either in the lower federal courts or in state courts. Paul R. Benson’s The Supreme Court and the Commerce Clause, 1937-1970 (New York: Dunellen, 1970), covers the willingness of the Court to expand the application of the commerce clause. Liberty Under Law: The Supreme Court in American Life (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988) by William M. Wiecek treats the evolution of the Court’s authority under its various leaders.
Alien land laws
Butler, United States v.
Commerce, regulation of
Contract, freedom of
First Amendment speech tests
Mulford v. Smith
Munn v. Illinois
Roberts, Owen J.
Wabash, St. Louis, and Pacific Railway Co. v. Illinois
Wickard v. Filburn