January 3, 2007

Evans v. United States: A Toll Charge for Property Rights

By Evans v. United States: A Toll Charge for Property Rights

by Timothy Sandefur

Not all cases of government seizing property involve real estate. In Evans v. United States, the government is taking raisins from farmers—up to a quarter of the entire crop!—in order to ensure that raisins don't get any cheaper. That's right: the government has a program to ensure that you don't get cheap raisins.

It works by taking away the raisins from farmers—which the government then sells, and it uses the money it gets for them to subsidize American farmers who sell raisins overseas (that is, it makes sure our farmers charge lower-than-market prices for raisins in other countries, by making them charge above-market prices for raisins here). What's left over at the end is then returned to the farmers—nowhere near enough to qualify as "just compensation."

In the Evans case, some raisin growers in Fresno are demanding that the government actually pay them the value of the raisins it steals from them. I filed this friend of the court brief on behalf of the Pacific Legal Foundation. But the United States Court of Federal Claims has ruled in favor of the government, arguing that a person who tries to sell raisins in the interstate market is merely paying a "toll" for the privilege of selling these raisins from state to state:

There is no physical invasion of property…nor is there any "direct appropriation of property…." Instead, the government is the recipient of a portion of the raisins that plaintiffs shipped to handlers subject to the marketing order. In essence, plaintiffs are paying an admissions fee or a toll—admittedly a steep one—for marketing raisins. The government does not force plaintiffs to grow raisins or to market the raisins; rather, it directs that if they grow and market raisins, then passing title to their "reserve tonnage" raisins…is their admission ticket.

Evans v. United States (2006 WL 3754812 at *8 (Fed. Cl., December 22, 2006). Could there be a clearer illustration of the fact that the modern bureaucracy sees your rights as mere permissions that the government gives to you? Your right to sell the goods you produce is a natural right, an inalienable part of what it means to be free, and of what it means to own something. But now your right to sell the raisins you grow on your own land is a privilege that you have to purchase by giving up a part of your rights.

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