Justices Uphold California Ban on Sale of Pork From Confined Sows
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a California ballot initiative that barred the sale of pork produced in other states unless the sow was housed in humane conditions allowing for free movement.
The decision of the court was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissenting.
At issue in the case was a California law known as Proposition 12, which bans the in-state sale of whole pork meat that comes from breeding pigs (or their immediate offspring) that are “confined in a cruel manner.”
The law further defines “cruel” to mean in ways that prevent a pig from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs or freely turning around.
Prior to the vote, animal rights activists argued the law would benefit both animal welfare and consumer health.
After Proposition 12’s adoption two industry organizations, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, sued on behalf of their members, maintaining Proposition 12 violated the Constitution by impermissibly burdening interstate commerce.
The organizations went on to argue that the cost of compliance with Proposition 12 would increase production costs and would fall on both California and out-of-state producers.
They further argued that because California imports almost all the pork it consumes, most of Proposition 12’s compliance costs would be borne by out-of-state firms.
A federal judge tossed the case, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to state a valid claim as a matter of law. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later affirmed that decision.
Writing for the Supreme Court majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch observed that “[c]ompanies 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,” he continued. “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 said.