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Wickard v. Filburn

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Wickard v. Filburn
317 U.S. 111
Decided: 1942

Wickard v. Filburn was a Supreme Court decision in 1942 that gave Congress absolute power. Prior to this decision, Congress had a limited set of enumerated powers that were listed in the Constitution, the others being retained by the states or the people. One of those enumerated powers is the power to regulate interstate commerce, i.e., trade between the states. In deciding Wickard v. Filburn, the Supreme Court said that any activity might possibly affect interstate commerce because someone, somewhere in another state might want to do that activity for you and charge you for it.

Background[edit]

Roscoe Filburn was a farmer in Ohio, who grew wheat on his farm to feed his animals. During the Great Depression, Congress had passed legislation (the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938) that limited how much wheat farmers could grow in order to drive up wheat prices. Filburn was growing more wheat than that law allowed based on the acreage he owned. Filburn was ordered to destroy his crops and pay a fine, even though there were no interstate transactions involved with the growing of the wheat; even though there was no transaction at all.

Filburn said that the Constitution did not grant Congress the power tell him how much wheat he could grow. The Supreme Court, taking a broad interpretation of the Constitution's Commerce Clause, said Congress could regulate growing food for personal use because it might affect prices in interstate commerce. The Commerce Clause says that Congress has the power:

"To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes".

The Court concluded that had Filburn not grown the wheat, he would have had to buy it on the open market, which, in theory, would increase the demand for wheat and cause the price to go up. And since the market for wheat also includes interstate transactions, then Congress can make Filburn destroy his crops.

In other words, when a butterfly flaps its wings in Florida, it could cause a Kansas wind turbine to spin faster, thus affecting interstate electricity prices, therefore Congress can step on the Florida butterfly.

Trivia[edit]

Claude R. Wickard was Secretary of Agriculture and the counter-party in the case, thus the “Wickard” in Wickard v. Filburn. A few years after the decision, Wickard was killed in an automobile accident when a butterfly flew into his car, distracting him. He ran a stop sign and was hit by a truck.

See also[edit]