Supreme Court takes on raisins, Spider-Man and hotels, but not marriage and Obamacare…yet

Spiderman in LA

There’s only one more SCOTUS “Decision Day” left in June, and it’s going to be a big one. On their second-to-last day before skipping town to enjoy their summer vacation, the Supreme Court released decisions on whether Marvel Entertainment will have to pay a toy manufacturer into perpetuity, even if his patent expires, and whether a New Deal program that pays raisin farmers not to grow raisins so as to drive up the price of raisins nationwide runs afoul of the Constitution.

In short, the raisins have been freed and the Marvel toy’s inventor is out of luck. Stephen Kimble, who invented a really badass web-shooting toy that children could wear on their hands, sold the toy to Marvel back in 2001, earning more than $6 million in royalties. In 2010, the patent expired, and Marvel stopped paying him ongoing royalties. Kimble complained, sued Marvel and today, the court affirmed a Ninth Circuit ruling telling Kimble to pound sand; once your patent runs out, you are no longer entitled to receive dividends from the product’s sale. The case isn’t terribly notable. However, the decision, written by Justice Elena Kagan, is rather…unconventional.

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According to Kagan, Marvel is allowed to keep the toy and children will be allowed to continue pretending to be Spider-Man with it.

As for the California raisins, well, your dehydrated grapes are now out from under the thumb of government tyranny, as SCOTUS decided that a New Deal program that set artificial limits on the number of raisins allowed into the marketplace at any given time – a method of price control for the then-depressed and also, apparently, raisin-crazy United States – is about as outdated as the concept of eating raisins.

This case stems from a story of government overreach that should terrify small-time raisin farmers everywhere. Acting on a tip, the U.S. Department of Agriculture busted into Marvin Horne’s Fresno, Calif. raisin farm and seized his illicit, free-market raisin crop, taking it for themselves. According to the USDA, this was fine, because Marvin would get a much higher price for his licit raisin crop, being sold on the open market, and because Michelle Obama’s school lunch programs would now feature an actual fruit, thanks to Marvin’s generous raisin donation to the federal government (not a joke – the “excess raisins” are used in school lunches).

This is a problem for Marvin, because the Fifth Amendment says that the government needs to pay “fair compensation” for any property it seizes. The USDA argued that “property” did not include raisins. The Supreme Court disagreed.

The Supreme Court has ruled for a California raisin grower and declared it was unconstitutional for a government-backed agricultural board to claim control of about one-third of his crop.

The justices said Marvin Horne from Fresno deserves to be compensated for this official seizure of his personal property.

The Fifth Amendment forbids the government from taking private property without paying “just compensation,” and the high court said this protection applies to raisins as well as real estate.

So this one greedy farmer with Republican backing overturns a New Deal-era law that has helped farmers. Greedy greedy greedy Republican bastards.

Chief Justice John Roberts spoke for a 5-4 majority. Several of the liberal justices agreed in theory but stopped short of saying Horne was due money for part of his raisin crop.

The ruling deals a blow to the last of the New Deal-era farm programs that authorize growers to join together to prop up the market prices for their products. The raisin board had the support of most growers, and its “marketing orders” had the backing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The California Raisins responded in kind by remembering that they were a thing back in the 1980s.

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