Because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday, May 11, California’s Proposition 12 can stand—which means the pigs can, too.
In 2018, California voters approved the ballot measure to ban the sale of meat and egg products from farms that did not raise their “veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens” in spaces that give them room enough to stand up and turn around. The proposition was supposed to go into effect in 2022, but two out-of-state organizations, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, sued to stop the measure.
The Supreme Court sided with California voters in a 5 to 4 ruling that didn’t follow the typical conservative-liberal split. In the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that rather than California regulating out-of-state businesses unconstitutionally, it is the businesses that are attempting to restrict a state’s ability to “regulate goods sold within their borders.” He was joined by Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.
Wrote Gorsuch: “Consider an example. Today, many States prohibit the sale of horsemeat for human consumption…. Under the lead dissent’s test, all it would take is one complaint from an unhappy out-of-state producer and—presto—the Constitution would protect the sale of horsemeat.”
In their partial dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Brett Kavanaugh said that the measure would place a “substantial burden against interstate commerce.”
Roberts, in his opinion, wrote: “Petitioners identify broader, market-wide consequences of compliance—economic harms that our precedents have recognized can amount to a burden on interstate commerce…. California has enacted rules that carry implications for producers as far flung as Indiana and North Carolina.”
Because 99% of the pork Californians eat comes from out of state, opponents of the proposition argued that the measure gave California an outsized role in restricting interstate commerce, running afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Producers estimated their costs would rise by 9% to comply with the rule, and the Biden administration stood with the pork producers, saying the measure would throw “a giant wrench into the workings of the interstate market in pork.”
Supporters of Prop. 12 argued that because the measure didn’t give California farmers and producers any sort of advantage, it wasn’t unconstitutional. It’s also common for states to pass regulations on what kinds of commodities are sold in their state. This session, legislators are considering a bill that would ban the sale of food products in California that contain certain chemicals linked to health issues.
In practical terms, the proposition will expand the industry standard of space for pigs from 14 to 20 square feet to a requirement of at least 24 square feet. Though some animal welfare advocates say the measure didn’t go far enough to protect animals, others nonetheless celebrated last week’s ruling, calling it the country’s “strongest farm animal welfare law.”
Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society, in a statement, said, “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.”