An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

The Agricultural Adjustment Act restricted the amount of wheat that farmer Roscoe Filburn could grow to a specified quota. Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard administered this regulatory scheme. The law restricted the supply of wheat as a means to increase prices, thereby benefiting farmers. According to the record, Filburn used the bulk of the wheat he grew in excess of this quota on his farm to feed his livestock. This way, Filburn could use his own home-grown wheat to feed his livestock at a lower cost, and still benefit by selling his “quota” wheat on the market for a higher price.

The Justices considered this case to be so controversial that they asked the parties to reargue it. While deliberating over the decision, Justice Jackson initially favored an opinion that would have abandoned all scrutiny concerning the scope of Congress’s commerce power. In other words, the Court would uphold any economic regulation that Congress deemed reasonable. But even the New Deal Court was not prepared to take such a momentous step. Instead, Jackson’s majority opinion expanded the substantial effects test.

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