WASHINGTON – The US Supreme Court will hear a constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 12 farm animal confinement law which sets minimum space requirements for veal calves, laying hens and sows and prohibits the sale of pork, eggs and veal sourced from animals confined in spaces that do not comply with Prop. 12 standards regardless of their origin. The high court is taking up the case on appeal from the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which in July 2021 upheld a lower court ruling against a lawsuit filed by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).
“We are extremely pleased that the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of Proposition 12, in which California seeks to impose regulations targeting farming practices outside its borders that would stifle interstate and international commerce,” said NPPC President Terry Wolters. “NPPC has poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into preserving the rights of America’s pork producers to raise hogs in a way that’s best for their animals’ well-being and that allows them to continue selling pork to all consumers, both here and internationally.”
NPPC and AFBF expect to file their initial brief with the Supreme Court, which could hear oral arguments in the fall and could render a decision by the end of 2022.
NPPC and AFBF petitioned the high court to review whether the law violates the dormant Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. The agriculture groups have argued that Prop. 12 has negative impacts that reach beyond California by imposing an excessive burden on livestock producers and interstate commerce. NPPC said the Commerce Clause grants Congress the power to regulate trade among the states and restricts states from regulating commerce outside their borders, except for matters related to public health and safety.
“California consumes 13% of US pork, but produces only 0.1% of what it consumes,” the petition said. “Proposition 12’s sow-housing requirements thus fall almost exclusively on farmers outside of its borders. The Ninth Circuit accurately described petitioners’ allegations about how those requirements operate extraterritorially to disrupt the $26-billion-a-year market in pork, force California’s preferred production methods on farmers everywhere, and impose the high costs of those methods on out-of-state farmers and consumers…”
Nearly two-thirds of California voters approved Prop. 12 in 2018, and the law has survived several court challenges including one by the North American Meat Institute, the state noted in its response to the NPPC/AFBF petition.
“Every lower court to consider a dormant Commerce Clause challenge to Proposition 12 has rejected it; and this Court recently denied a petition arising from the lower courts’ refusal to preliminarily enjoin the measure,” the state said. “The petition here presents the same core legal issues and alleges the same circuit conflicts. Here again, the allegations of a circuit conflict are unpersuasive, and petitioners identify no other persuasive reason for the Court to grant review.
“Indeed, the Court has repeatedly denied petitions raising similar dormant Commerce Clause questions,” the state said. “The same result is warranted here.”
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) issued a statement expressing confidence that the Supreme Court would uphold Prop. 12.
“The Court has repeatedly affirmed the states’ rights to enact laws protecting animals, public health and safety, and the pork industry should focus on eliminating cruel caging of animals rather than attacking popular, voter-passed animal cruelty laws,” said Kitty Block, HSUS president and CEO.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the agency tasked with developing rules to implement the law, is more than two years late finalizing regulations. In January, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled that implementation of the law should be delayed until the state enacts final regulations. The ruling delays enforcement of Prop. 12 until 180 days after the final rules go into effect. Petitioners in the case had asked for a 28-month delay.