In a 5-to-4 decision, a Supreme Court majority said the type of meat sold in California does not create any constitutional problems for the state’s voter-approved Proposition 12.
The decision goes against the U.S. pork industry while favoring the nation’s animal activist community.
At issue was whether the sweeping proposition passed by voters in 2018 is able to block sales in California of particular poultry and pork products from areas in other states that don’t adhere to California’s animal housing standards.
“We’re delighted that the Supreme Court has upheld California Proposition 12 – the nation’s strongest farm animal welfare law – and made clear that preventing animal cruelty and protecting public health are core functions of our state governments,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
“We are grateful to our many outstanding allies who helped make Proposition 12 a success. We won’t stop fighting until the pork industry ends its cruel, reckless practice of confining mother pigs in cages so small they can’t even turn around. It’s astonishing that pork industry leaders would waste so much time and money on fighting this commonsense step to prevent products of relentless, unbearable animal suffering from being sold in California.”
For the pork industry, the Supreme Court decision is a significant loss. Agriculture groups said that if the California law was upheld, it would not be long before other states adopted separate requirements making it difficult for producers to meet a maze of requirements.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit previously upheld Proposition 12 and dismissed a lawsuit filed by agriculture interests against the law, on the grounds the industry groups did not state a claim of damages.
The pork producers brought the appeal to the Supreme Court claiming Proposition 12 violates the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Solicitor General of the United States, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, came down on the side of the Interstate Commerce Clause and the pork producers.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this past Oct 11. California said the only Proposition 12-compliant pork that out-of-state businesses must produce is the pork they choose to supply to California’s market. They are free to make as many other pork products as they want and to sell them to markets outside of California.
Proposition 12 makes it a criminal offense and civil violation to sell whole pork meat in California unless the pig it comes from is born to a sow housed within 24 square feet of space and in conditions that allow a sow to turn around without touching an enclosure. Proposition 12 applies to any uncooked pork sold in the state, regardless of whether it was raised in California.
The five justices in the majority were conservatives Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Amy Coney Barrett, and liberals Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen
Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion: “What goods belong in our stores? Usually, consumer demand and local laws supply some of the answers.
“Recently, California adopted just such a law banning the in-state sale of certain pork products derived from breeding pigs confined in stalls so small they cannot lie down, stand up, or turn around. In response, two groups of out-of-state pork producers filed this lawsuit, arguing that the law unconstitutionally interferes with their preferred way of doing business in violation of this court’s dormant Commerce Clause precedents. The district court and court of appeals dismissed the producers’ complaint for failing to state a claim.
“We affirm. Companies that choose to sell products in various states must normally comply with the laws of those various states. Assuredly, under this court’s dormant Commerce Clause decisions, no state may use its laws to discriminate purposefully against out-of-state economic interests. But the pork producers do not suggest that California’s law offends this principle.”
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