Wickard v. Filburn
317 U.S. 111 (1942)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942)

Wickard v. Filburn

No. 59

Argued May 4, 1942

Reargued October 13, 1942

Decided November 9, 1942

317 U.S. 111

Syllabus

1. Pending a referendum vote of farmers upon wheat quotas proclaimed by the Secretary of Agriculture under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, the Secretary made a radio address in which he advocated approval of the quotas and called attention to the recent enactment by Congress of the amendatory act, later approved

Page 317 U. S. 112

May 26, 1941. The speech mentioned the provisions of the amendment for increase of loans on wheat, but not the fact that it also increased the penalty on excess production, and added that, because of the uncertain world situation, extra acreages of wheat had been deliberately planted, and "farmers should not be penalized because they have provided insurance against shortages of food." There was no evidence that the subsequent referendum vote approving the quotas was influenced by the speech.

Held, that, in any event, and even assuming that the penalties referred to in the speech were those prescribed by the Act, the validity of the vote was not thereby affected. P. 317 U. S. 117.

2. The wheat marketing quota and attendant penalty provisions of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, as amended by the Act of May 26, 1941, when applied to wheat not intended in any part for commerce but wholly for consumption on the farm, are within the commerce power of Congress. P. 317 U. S. 118.

3. The effect of the Act is to restrict the amount of wheat which may be produced for market and the extent as well to which one may forestall resort to the market by producing for his own needs. P. 317 U. S. 127.

4. That the production of wheat for consumption on the farm may be trivial in the particular case is not enough to remove the grower from the scope of federal regulation where his contribution, taken with that of many others similarly situated, is far from trivial. P. 317 U. S. 127.

5. The power to regulate interstate commerce includes the power to regulate the prices at which commodities in that commerce are dealt in and practices affecting such prices. P. 317 U. S. 128.

6. A factor of such volume and variability as wheat grown for home consumption would have a substantial influence on price conditions on the wheat market, both because such wheat, with rising prices, may flow into the market and check price increases and, because, though never marketed, it supplies the need of the grower which would otherwise be satisfied by his purchases in the open market. P. 317 U. S. 128.

7. The amendatory Act of May 26, 1941, which increased the penalty upon "farm marketing excess" and included in that category wheat which previously had not been subject to penalty, held not invalid as retroactive legislation repugnant to the Fifth Amendment when applied to wheat planted and growing before it was enacted, but harvested and threshed thereafter. P. 317 U. S. 131.

43 F.Supp. 1017, reversed.

Page 317 U. S. 113

APPEAL from a decree of the District Court of three judges which permanently enjoined the Secretary of Agriculture and other appellants from enforcing certain penalties against the appellee, a farmer, under the Agricultural Adjustment Act.

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Primary Holding

An activity does not need to have a direct effect on interstate commerce to fall within the commerce power, as long as the effect is substantial and economic.

Facts

A farmer in Ohio, Roscoe Filburn, produced a greater quantity of wheat than what Congress had allowed under the Agricultural Adjustment Act. This 1938 law sought to stabilize the price of wheat in the national economy by limiting the quantity of wheat that each farmer could produce, which was achieved by restricting the amount of land that each farmer could use for wheat. The broader economic context was that wheat prices were unstable throughout the world and in turn harming American agriculture.

Filburn used 23 acres to produce weight, approximately double what he was allotted. He did not argue that he was unaware of the law in either 1940 or 1941, the two harvest seasons in which he violated it. Nor did did he dispute the economic conditions giving rise to the law or the need to control wheat prices. He argued that the extra wheat that the had produced in violation of the law had been used for his own use and thus had no effect on interstate commerce, since it never had been on the market. In his view, this meant that he had not violated the law because the additional wheat was not subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause.

Procedural History

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio - 43 F. Supp. 1017 (S.D. Ohio 1942)

Judgment for the plaintiff. Relying in part on the campaign methods that the Secretary of Agriculture had used to advocate for the law, the Court held that those statements were improper in convincing farmers to vote to implement the quota. An injunction was granted to Filburn against the enforcement of the law.

Opinions

Majority

  • Robert Houghwout Jackson (Author)
  • Harlan Fiske Stone
  • Owen Josephus Roberts
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Felix Frankfurter
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Frank Murphy
  • James Francis Byrnes

Writing for a unanimous Court, Jackson found that the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to regulate prices in the industry, and this law was rationally related to that legitimate goal.. He pointed out that Filburn would have needed to buy wheat if he had not used his own wheat for personal consumption, so his choice still affected the national economy and interstate commerce by removing a buyer from the market. Although this impact was admittedly negligible, the impact would be significant if similarly situated farmers followed Filburn's example. Jackson's reasoning led him to hold that Congress could even regulate activity occurring entirely within a single state under the Commerce Clause and even if each individual activity had a trivial effect on interstate commerce, as long as the intrastate activity viewed in the aggregate would have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. To this extent, he repudiated Court precedents that had tried to determine whether an activity was local or classify its effects as direct or indirect.

Case Commentary

The aggregation doctrine in Commerce Clause jurisprudence has extended the powers of Congress very broadly by allowing it to justify a law under this basis. Jackson's deference to Congress would set the tone for the next several decades of decisions evaluating the use of the Commerce Clause to justify legislation. Not until 1995, in U.S. v. Lopez, was a law found unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.

In more modern jurisprudence, Wickard has played a role in cases involving medical marijuana grown by individuals for personal use. Decisions such as Gonzales v. Raich in 2005 have found that prosecuting these defendants is justified under the Commerce Clause because growing medicial marijuana at home poses a source of competition for medicinal marijuana in interstate commerce.

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