Supreme Court Upholds Restrictive California Pork Production Law

Supreme Court Upholds Restrictive California Pork Production Law
Chief U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch poses for the official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 7, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court narrowly upheld a voter-approved animal welfare law in California on May 11 that bans the sale of pork from hogs unless the animals were raised in a space that exceeds industry norms.

The court split 5–4 in its ruling, which affirmed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, which leaves the door open for Congress to legislate on the issue if it chooses to do so. Three of the six conservative justices voted to uphold the state law, while the other three voted to strike it down.

Legal experts have said the case is important because the court’s ruling could have implications reaching well beyond agriculture law. State-level energy and climate regulations have also been challenged under the so-called dormant commerce clause, or negative commerce clause, in the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from enacting legislation that discriminates against, or excessively burdens, interstate commerce.

Almost all pork production in the United States takes place outside California. The state law applies to all pork, regardless of where it was produced.

The Humane Society of the United States, a respondent in the case, argued that states have the right to keep products they deem immoral and unsafe out of their markets, including pork from pigs confined under conditions animal welfare activists consider harsh.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the petitioner, describes itself as an agricultural organization representing the interests of the $26-billion-per-year U.S. pork industry. Among its members are pig farmers, as well as the entire pork chain and associated businesses, such as veterinarians, pork packers and processors, and other allied businesses that serve the industry. The Biden administration sided with the NPPC in the case.

The case, NPPC v. Ross, court file 21-468, goes back to 2008 when California voters easily approved Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which outlawed “gestation crates” for pregnant pigs, cages for egg-laying hens, and veal crates for calves. The measure didn’t, however, forbid sales of food that came from animals confined in prohibited ways.

A decade later, California Proposition 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, was also easily approved by state voters in 2018.

The initiative mandated “minimum space requirements based on square feet for calves raised for veal, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens and bans the sale of (a) veal from calves, (b) pork from breeding pigs, and (c) eggs from hens, when the animals are confined to areas below minimum square-feet requirements.”

In the court’s majority opinion (pdf), Gorsuch said the constitutional provisions argued by the pork industry do not apply here.

“Companies that choose to sell products in various States must normally comply with the laws of those various States,” Gorsuch wrote. “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.

“Instead, they invite us to fashion two new and more aggressive constitutional restrictions on the ability of States to regulate goods sold within their borders. We decline that invitation. While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”

Gorsuch’s opinion was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, dissented from the majority opinion.

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, promptly lauded the majority opinion.

“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. 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,” Block said in a statement her group provided to The Epoch Times. “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.”

From The Epoch Times

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