Wickard v. Filburn is a 1942 Supreme Court decision that changed much of the United States of America from a federal to a unitary government where the national or central government is supreme. The central government makes the policies and it is the duty of the lower divisions of government to carry out these policies. Most of the world’s governments such as France, Spain, People's Republic of China, Ecuador, Israel, and Iran have unitary governments.
In a federal government, the powers of the national government are limited by a constitution. The United States of America was the first major modern federation. It came about because the thirteen colonies did not want to give up their newly won freedoms to a central government. However, they realized their need for a common defense and cooperation in some matters such as preventing trade wars and settling disputes between the various states.
The states created the U.S Constitution to accomplish this and some of the signers of of the Constitution wrote the Federalist Papers to explain the Constitution. One of the major purposes was the idea that each state would make most of its own policies. The good and bad policies could then be compared. The states with the bad policies would likely drop them and the states with good policies would likely keep them.
Here is the sequence of events leading up to the Wickard case. President Roosevelt was elected on his platform of The New Deal where the federal government would create federal programs to lead us out of the Great Depression. These programs included The National Industrial Recovery Act (1933).
In 1935, The Supreme Court ruled in a five to four majority that part of the NIRA was unconstitutional. It said “that the NIRA improperly delegated legislative powers to the executive and that the provisions of the poultry code (in the case in question) did not constitute a regulation of interstate commerce.” This put many of the New Deal programs in grave jeopardy.
Roosevelt retaliated by promoting legislation to expand the Supreme Court from nine to fifteen justices so he could pack the court with his own people. Following this threat, Justice Owen Roberts switched from voting against The New Deal to voting for it. This made it unnecessary to expand the court and the bill was withdrawn. This corruption of the Supreme Court is known as “The switch in time that saved nine.”
The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 was a new deal program that limited the production of farmers for various reasons. One of these reasons was to create “a balanced flow of such commodities in interstate and foreign commerce.”
The use of the words “interstate and foreign commerce” was to justify the Act under Article I, Section 8, Clause 3. This is known as the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”
Wickard v. Filburn was about the constitutionality of using the Commerce Clause to justify the Agriculture Adjustment Act. Roscoe Filburn was an Ohio farmer who planted more wheat than his allotment but he used it only to feed his chickens. The Department of Agriculture fined Filburn for this violation of growing more wheat than his allotment. Filburn refused to pay.
Secretary of Agriculture Wickard sued Filburn. The farmer defended his actions sighting the commerce clause. He argued that he was growing the wheat for his own use. It was not for sale and thus would not affect interstate trade.
The corrupted Supreme Court ruled in favor of Secretary Wickard by twisting the meaning of the Commerce Clause. Five of the lawyers reasoned that if Filburn had not grown his own wheat, he would have bought it on the open market and this would have affected interstate trade.
If our central government can tell a farmer how much wheat he can grow for his own use, there is almost no limit of its power to do mischief. For instance, our central government created the Food and Drug Administration. Because of FDA regulations, it takes billions of dollars and many years to get a drug to the market. This true cost of this is measured in human lives.
If we had a federal government instead of a unitary government, each state would be responsible for approving the medications in their states. Here is one way federalism might work. Clinical trials do not require large amounts of patients so the trials could be done in single state. When a state approves a drug, others states could also approve them if they agreed with the data. Most likely a federalist system of drug approval would be cheaper, take less, time and save more lives.
In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court ruled in NATIONAL FEDERATION OF INDEPENDENT BUSINESS (NFIB) ET AL. v. SEBELIUS, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL, that the Commerce Clause could not be used to mandate that citizens or employers buy something such as health insurance. The Supreme Court then made the bizarre ruling that ObamaCare was constitutional because it acted like a tax and therefore was a tax.
The four dissenters said about the lawsuit, “In the name of cooperative federalism, it (calling a mandate a tax) undermines state sovereignty.” Dissenter Justice Thomas also said, “the Court’s continued use of that test (substantial affect on interstate commerce) ‘has encouraged the Federal Government to persist in its view that the Commerce Clause has virtually no limits.’”
The good news is that this lawsuit did put limits on Wickard v. Filmore. Perhaps other limits will be forthcoming at the national and/or state level.