Barlow v. Collins

PETITIONER: Clemon Barlow et al.
RESPONDENT: B. L. Collins
LOCATION: St. Petersburg City Hall

DOCKET NO.: 249
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 397 US 159 (1970)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1969
DECIDED: Mar 03, 1970

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Barlow v. Collins

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1969 in Barlow v. Collins

Warren E. Burger:

Barlow and others against Collins.

Mr. Edgar you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Harold Edgar:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case concerns the very limited purposes for which assignments may be made of benefits payable under the upland cotton program. More particularly, it concerns whether the Secretary of Agriculture may disregard the considerable legislative and administrative construction of the statutory phrase “making a crop” and redefine it to authorize assignments for the purpose of paying rent for land.

Prior to his change from regulations such assignments were prohibited.

Petitioners, tenant farmers who were hurt by this change and regulation in a manner I shall develop brought suit in the middle of the District of Alabama seeking a declaration that the change in regulation was invalid.

The district judge held that they have no standing to raise the claim and that in any event it was not meritorious.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed on grounds of standing alone, this Court granted certiorari last June.

I'd like to begin by showing how the changed regulation harms petitioners, tenant farmers.

They farm the land in the traditional pattern of the southern cotton farming.

They stay on the same year here at the same land year in and year out, some have been into farm all their lives.

Some 61 years, the shortest named petitioner has been there for over ten years.

What they do is at the beginning of the year they file -- they make a rent note with the landowner and that rent note gives them the right to use the land.

It also normally provides for the landowner paying them small advances to pay for food and clothing while the crop is being grown.

And the landlord for this gets both the right for the rent at the settlement date which is after the crop is in and at that time the advances are repayable with interest.

However since the tenant farmers do not have any credit standing in the community, typically they are forced to buy all of the seed and tools that they need to make their crop from the landowner who extends them credit and charges prices more higher than the prices that are charged in the community at large.

Moreover, interest is payable in that amount.

So it turns out that at the end of the year they have to pay their rent for all their purchases in the interim and typically they have nothing left and this goes on year in year out.

Now the upland cotton program promised a somewhat better deal for petitioners in this position.

What it did is it authorized in Section (d) 13 that payments made under the program could be assigned.

Now the assignment is a right to get credit.

I mean if you can assign and get credit, people know in the community that you have a definite amount of federal funds coming in, you can avoid the necessity of buying all your goods at the stores maintained by landowners and you can thereby perhaps save some of the money, so that at the end of the crop season you will have some money left.

John M. Harlan:

You said Mr. Edgar that people know in the community you have a definite amount of funds coming in.

Is it known in advance just what the figure will be?

Harold Edgar:

It is not known exactly in advance what the figure will be.

It depends on the amount of cotton that's grown and the amount of land that's diverted.

The land diverted is a fixed payment and it doesn't -- you're not growing any crop on the land diverted therefore that amount will be fixed.

The actual price support is predictable by knowing the typical yield rate in the area but it's not by any matter of means a definite figure.

John M. Harlan:

Exactly predictable.

Harold Edgar:

No, Your Honor.