Wickard v. Filburn: The Aggregation Principle & Congressional Power [No. 86]
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Wickard v. Filburn: The Aggregation Principle & Congressional Power [No. 86]


Wickard is Claud Wickard who was the Secretary
of Agriculture under the Roosevelt Administration. Filburn is Roscoe Filburn, who was an Ohio
farmer. The Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed
during the Depression as a way of stabilizing farm prices and by stabilizing they mean increase
farm prices so that farmers who were a very important voting constituency, uh, would have
a steady source of income and they did that by restricting the supply of farm goods, of
farm produce, um, in order to raise the prices of farm produce. The case involved a quota on wheat production
that was imposed on Roscoe Filburn. He was allotted a certain amount of what that
he could grow and he planted that wheat and he additionally planted a number of acres
of wheat over and above, and he used that wheat on his own farm, but the record shows
that he did sell some of his wheat in interstate commerce, but he used other parts of his wheat
to feed his own produce, which consisted of dairy cows that produced milk and chicken,
which produced eggs. So, the question is, did Congress have the
authority to reach, not the wheat that he marketed in interstate commerce or sold as
wheat, but the wheat that he used on the farm, even though the wheat that he produced would
have had a minuscule effect on interstate commerce? The idea that Congress could reach local activity,
even activity as trivial as Roscoe Filburn’s growing of wheat, was quite radical and a
difficult case for the Court to decide. It actually held the case over for re-argument
to a second term because it was unable to reach that conclusion the first time it heard
the case. We’d have the memos written by the justices,
which shows how anguished they were in extending Congress’ power as far as they did. Justice Jackson at one point thought the court
really ought to be candid and say, you know, “When it comes to the national economy, we
just leave it to Congress.” But that’s not what the Court actually ended
up holding in Wickard versus Filburn. The Court held that Congress could reach even
Roscoe Filburn’s activity, which itself had a trivial effect on interstate commerce because
it establishes what’s known as the aggregation principle and that allows, um, the federal
government to reach even activity that has a minuscule, or trivial, or even nonexistent
effect on interstate commerce because when all that activity is aggregated, all the similar
activity is aggregated, then the activity as a group has a substantial effect on interstate
commerce. And this is what the court said was going
to evade the regulatory scheme and it was necessary under the Necessary and Proper Clause
for the Congress to reach that activity. Now, the reason why the case is sometimes
mistaught is because the court doesn’t talk about the necessary and proper clause. It only talks about the commerce clause, so
it’s easy to think that it expanded the meaning of the commerce clause. But in the Darby case, on which Wickard relies,
the court relied on the authority of McCulloch versus Maryland to justify the substantial
effects doctrine that allowed Congress to reach activity that was not commerce but had
a substantial effect on commerce. Both cases were really dependent on the necessary
and proper clause, which says that Congress shall have the power to make laws that are
necessary and proper for executing its powers that are found elsewhere in the Constitution. For example, the commerce power. In a way, you can think of the enumeration
of powers in Article I Section 8 and as the appropriate objects or purposes of laws that
are passed by Congress and the necessary and proper clause makes it clear that Congress
has the power to pass laws, to pursue those objects or purposes. By allowing Congress to reach activity as
trivial as a single farmer’s production of wheat to feed his own livestock, Wickard versus
Filburn profoundly expanded the reach of Congress’ power the national economy.

11 Comments

  • AboveAllNations

    It's annoying how conservatives always complain about the scope of federal regulation under the Commerce Clause, but when it comes to decriminalizing marijuana all of a sudden Republicans in Congress conveniently forget their alleged commitment to principles like federalism and limited government.

  • huddless50

    And so began the deconstruction of the American experiment. This was the same court that capitulated to the white supremacist & socialist FDR because of his threat to add 6 new justices and water down their ability to come to decisions.

  • Andre Moreau

    This video is kind of bullshit. In the actual decision the Court does not find that the law was valid under the 'necessary and proper' clause. It is raised as a defense by the government, but the Court dismisses it and affirms that Congress has the ability to regulate this under the Commerce Clause. The "Aggregation Principle" is misleading, because that isn't really a thing. The court never uses that term. However they say that it is the contribution of many others similarly situated that would make this a problem of interstate commerce.
    I'm not sure if this guy has some weird agenda or he just doesn't care to know what he's talking about, but he's not being accurate.

  • Cognitive Instinct

    The SCOTUS intentionally ruled incorrectly and used as much mental gymnastics as they could to obfuscate just how badly they were going to tip the balance of power with the necessary and proper clause. That's the real reason they reached for the necessary and proper clause. The aggregate price angle is fundamentally flawed… if Congress was going to regulate the price of wheat, they can simply dictate the price without restricting the supply. Its not necessary or proper for Congress to regulate the production of the supply to regulate the price because they can control price directly. This really hinges on the "necessary" part. Its not necessary to control what people decide to produce with their labor in order to control price, it was simply desirable for the New Deal proponents.

  • Joseph Jaramillo

    This is why people say Congress and the Courts have too much power and why we want the government out of our business. I'm going to buy and grow wheat out of sheer spite now

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