Mike Fahner, president and owner of Cedar Point Nursery, passed away last month, less than six months after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in his favor in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid. I was on my way to D.C. to give a talk on Mike’s case when I heard.
The last time I spoke with Mike, he was in Southern California. Always the entrepreneur, and never willing to settle, Mike was starting a new business. Rather than just running a strawberry nursery, he was going to give it a go growing and selling the strawberry fruit. He was proud of what we had accomplished, but he was on to the next thing.
The first time I spoke with Mike Fahner was a couple days after the United Farm Workers Union stormed his property in October 2015. He was more confused than angry. How could this be constitutional? How could strangers with bullhorns storm onto his property in the wee morning hours and scream at his workers?
Two months after that phone call, my colleague Chris Kieser and I were on our way north to the tiny town of Dorris, California. It’s a long drive from Sacramento. I got a speeding ticket on the outskirts of town from probably the lone police officer. I remember that officer being skeptical of us “southerners” being up there.
When we got to the nursery, Mike greeted us in his flannel and work boots. I wonder what he must have thought of us when we pulled up: Why are these two nerds wearing suits to a strawberry farm in mid-January? Cedar Point Nursery is not a place that sees many suits. Mike is a blue-collar guy; he’s a farmer and a businessman. But he never let on that we were fish out of water, and he made us feel comfortable immediately.
I remember the joy with which he showed us the business. Here’s where we grow the plants. Here is where we trim them. Here they get packaged. This water drip system was new this year. We are going to do that next year. It was obvious that the business meant so much to him. He told us the story of how he founded Cedar Point Nursery and how he grew it into one of the nation’s premier strawberry nurseries. He was justifiably proud.
But in what we would come to know as typical Mike fashion, he reserved most of his praise for others. I met Victor. I met Michael. Mike cared deeply for his core team, and they all spoke fondly of him. He also spoke highly of the seasonal workers that come each fall to harvest the strawberry plants. To hear Mike tell it, you’d think he was just a passive participant in the business, not the visionary entrepreneur that founded and grew a multimillion-dollar business.
Mike did everything we asked of him that day. The photo shoot lasted hours. We shot a lot of video. I complained, but Mike never did. And that was emblematic of our next five years together. Mike always helped with the case. He did interview after interview. He did webinars and Q&As. And he never wavered in deflecting the praise to me and PLF. He always credited the lawyers. But it was his tenacity and sense of justice that made it all possible.
Mike Fahner is a true American hero. Without Mike’s willingness to fight, there may never have been a lawsuit. Without his deep belief in justice and duty, Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid would not be the landmark property rights precedent that it is. Without Mike Fahner, every American’s constitutional rights would be less secure than they are today.
I am grateful to have known Mike Fahner, but I don’t pretend to really know the man. Mike kept his private life private, but I have little doubt that a man with such a rich soul touched many people even more profoundly than he did me. I hope to someday meet his family and tell them how grateful I am to have had him in my life.
Mike and I will be forever linked. It’s every constitutional lawyer’s dream to argue before the Supreme Court of the United States. I got to do that representing Mike’s business, Cedar Point Nursery. Someday my obituary will mention Cedar Point Nursery, just like Mike’s did. That case, and the effects of it, will outlast both Mike and me. I couldn’t have handpicked a better client for that honor.
Rest in Peace, Mike.