From Chickens to Rabbits

The radical momentum of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal perhaps crested with the Supreme Court’s decision in the case Schechter Poultry Corporation v. United States. Large elements of the the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 were ruled unconstitutional. The Court found that the extensive regulatory structure of the act gave too much discretion the the Executive Branch violating the separation of powers. Agents of the Executive branch were making rules that should have been enacted by Congress. Further, some regulations actually exceed even Congressional federal authority with regard to the interstate commerce clause. Justice Louise Brandeis is reputed to have commented that “This is the end of this business of centralization…. we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.’’ Roosevelt was so furious he unsuccessfully attempted to stack the Supreme Court with additional Justices more inclined to rule in his favor.

What is interesting about the Schechter case that Schechter was not an large cooperation but a small, family-based Kosher wholesale poultry provider run by Jewish immigrants who did not speak English well and certainly did not understand the subtleties of the National Recovery Act. They were upset that their religious devotion was implicitly in question by the charges that they sold unhealthy chickens. This was a charge the authorities could not prove. A closer examination of the case, suggest that authorities were as much trying to make an example of a small defenseless enterprise as they were protecting public health.

There is small echo of this case in a modern situation where the USDA is fining a Missouri family $90,000 for largely a paperwork deficiency. Over the course of a couple years, the Dollarhite famly of Nixa, Missouri had raised rabbits both to sell as pets and for animal food. When they sold the rabbits to local pet stores they were designated as wholesale breeders. No one claims that rabbits were mistreated. However, they were is technical violation of the 1966 Animal Welfare Act.

When informed of this violation the Dollarhites immediately ceased activities. The enterprise was, after all, something of a hobby. Nonetheless, the Dollarhites have racked up a fine of $90K. There is also evidence that their may be some political motivation in the prosecution and that the family is being singled out to serve as an example to other wholesale breeders.

No one likes a bully and the USDA is shaking the Dollarhite familty down for more than just milk money. Fortunately, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican Representative Billy Long are seeking to intervene on behalf of the Dollarhites. Americans should not have to rely on special attention is order to be treated with respect by the Federal government.

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