Wickard v. Filburn

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Wickard v. Filburn
Court U.S. Supreme Court
Citation 317 U.S. 111 (1942)
Date decided 1942


The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 limited the amount of wheat a farmer could grow and consume himself. Roscoe Filburn was a farmer who produced wheat in excess of the amount permitted. His allotment, per the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, had been set at 11.1 acres. Filburn choose to ignore this prescribed quota, and in 1941 he planted his wheat crop on 23 acres, from which he produced an excess of 239 bushels of wheat.


Commerce Clause (Article I, ยง8)

  • Should production be considered part of interstate commerce or should it be considered a separate, independent activity? The basic constitutional question is can an activity of a "local character" that might indirectly affect interstate commerce be regulated under the Commerce Clause?
  • Since Filburn argues that the excess wheat was produced for his own private consumption and therefore never entered the stream of commerce, can the U.S. government still regulate his activities within the scope of the Commerce Clause?
  • Does the federal government's regulation of intrastate activities, such as the production and consumption of wheat, violate the principles of the 10th amendment? Are the internal police powers delegated to individual states being trampled upon by the U.S. Congress?


In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 1938 Agricultural Adjustment Act, reversing the ruling of a lower court.

SCOTUS announces that Congress has the power to impose a production quota on wheat.


  • The court's opinion stated that Congress had the authority to regulate wholly intrastate, non-commercial activity assuming that such activity would have a serious effect on interstate commerce.
  • Although Filburn argued that the excess wheat he produced was intended entirely for his own consumption, Justice Jackson points out that Filburn would have otherwise had to buy that wheat on the open market. While the actions of one farmer are insignificant, Justice Jackson reasoned that if thousands of other farmers took the same actions as Filburn, then interstate commerce would be significantly affected. Because of lower demand from these farmers for wheat, the price of wheat would be artificially low.
  • Justice Jackson quotes from Chief Justice Stone's opinion in U.S. v. Darby, "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."
In citing this quote, Jackson is making the point that federal law is supreme over state law. States maintain the authority to legislate in the absence of congressional action, but once the federal government intervenes, its law take precedent, as stated in the Constitution.


Although the act extends federal regulation to production not intended in any part for commerce but wholly for consumption on the farm, Congress may properly consider wheat consumed on the farm since it has an effect in defeating and obstructing its purpose to stimulate trade therein at increased prices.


The decision in Wickard v. Filburn marked the end to any limits on Congress's commerce clause powers. Their authority to regulate now extended to ostensibly intrastate activities such as consumption and production. From this point forward, the Supreme Court went more than a half century before it ruled against the federal government in an interstate commerce case.