Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act.

After its initial frus- trations, Congress returned to the task of bolstering agriculture by passing the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of June 3, 1937,844 authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture to fix the minimum prices of certain agricultural products, when the handling of such products occurs “in the current of interstate or foreign commerce or . . . directly burdens, obstructs or affects interstate or foreign commerce in such commodity or product thereof.” In United States v. Wrightwood Dairy Co.,845 the Court sustained an order of the Secretary of Agriculture fixing the minimum prices to be paid to producers of milk in the Chicago “marketing area.” The dairy company demurred to the regulation on the ground it applied to milk produced and sold intrastate. Sustaining the order, the Court said: “Congress plainly has power to regulate the price of milk distributed through the medium of interstate commerce . . . and it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective. The commerce power is not confined in its exercise to the regulation of commerce among the States. It extends to those activities intrastate which so affect interstate commerce, or the exertion of the power of Congress over it, as to make regulation of them appropriate means to the attainment of a legitimate end, the effective execution of the granted power to regulate interstate commerce. The power of Congress over interstate commerce is plenary and complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations other than are prescribed in the Constitution. . . . It follows that no form of State activity can constitutionally thwart the regulatory power granted by the commerce clause to Congress. Hence the reach of that power extends to those intrastate activities which in a substantial way interfere with or obstruct the exercise of the granted power.”846

In Wickard v. Filburn,847 the Court sustained a still deeper penetration by Congress into the field of production. As amended by the act of 1941, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938848 regulated production even when not intended for commerce but wholly for consumption on the producer’s farm. Sustaining this extension of the act, the Court pointed out that the effect of the statute was to support the market. “It can hardly be denied that a factor of such volume and variability as home-consumed wheat would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. This may arise because being in marketable condition such wheat overhangs the market and, if induced by rising prices, tends to flow into the market and check price increases. But if we assume that it is never marketed, it supplies a need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. The stimulation of commerce is a use of the regulatory function quite as definitely as prohibitions or restrictions thereon. This record leaves us in no doubt that Congress may properly have considered that wheat consumed on the farm grown, if wholly outside the scheme of regulation, would have a substantial effect in defeating and obstructing its purpose to stimulate trade therein at increased prices.”849 And, it elsewhere stated “that questions of the power of Congress are not to be decided by reference to any formula which would give controlling force to nomenclature such as ‘production’ and ‘indirect’ and foreclose consideration of the actual effects of the activity in question upon interstate commerce. . . . The Court’s recognition of the relevance of the economic effects in the application of the Commerce Clause . . . has made the mechanical application of legal formulas no longer feasible.”850

Footnotes

844
50 Stat. 246, 7 U.S.C. §§ 601et seq. [Back to text]
845
315 U.S. 110 (1942). The Court had previously upheld other legislation that regulated agricultural production through limitations on sales in or affecting interstate commerce. Currin v. Wallace, 306 U.S. 1 (1939); Mulford v. Smith, 307 U.S. 38 (1939). [Back to text]
846
315 U.S. at 118–19. [Back to text]
847
317 U.S. 111 (1942). [Back to text]
848
52 Stat. 31, 7 U.S.C. §§ 612c, 1281–1282et seq. [Back to text]
849
317 U.S. at 128–29. [Back to text]
850
317 U.S. at 120, 123–24. In United States v. Rock Royal Co-operative, Inc., 307 U.S. 533 (1939), the Court sustained an order under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, 50 Stat. 246, regulating the price of milk in certain instances. Justice Reed wrote for the majority of the Court: “The challenge is to the regulation ‘of the price to be paid upon the sale by a dairy farmer who delivers his milk to some country plant.’ It is urged that the sale, a local transaction, is fully completed before any interstate commerce begins and that the attempt to fix the price or other elements of that incident violates the Tenth Amendment. But where commodities are bought for use beyond state lines, the sale is a part of interstate commerce. We have likewise held that where sales for interstate transportation were commingled with intrastate transactions, the existence of the local activity did not interfere with the federal power to regulate inspection of the whole. Activities conducted within state lines do not by this fact alone escape the sweep of the Commerce Clause. Interstate commerce may be dependent upon them. Power to establish quotas for interstate marketing gives power to name quotas for that which is to be left within the state of production. Where local and foreign milk alike are drawn into a general plan for protecting the interstate commerce in the commodity from the interferences, burdens and obstructions, arising from excessive surplus and the social and sanitary evils of low values, the power of the Congress extends also to the local sales.” Id. at 568–69. [Back to text]