Court Shouldn’t Interfere with California’s Meat and Egg Restrictions by Laurence H. Tribe, Chris Green, and Kelsey Eberly

On industrial hog farms in the United States, pigs are confined their entire lives in barren cages barely larger than their bodies. In these “gestation crates” these intelligent animals are tortured. They can’t turn over or even lie down completely, causing painful sores and cramps. Their piglets are born in a densely packed environment ripe for disease and infection.

For years, most calves raised for veal and hens raised for egg production suffered from a similar shortage. Medical research shows that such confinement endangers the health and safety of consumers by compromising the animals’ immune systems and facilitating the transfer of disease-causing pathogens from killed creatures to humans. Almost as if their suffering could be turned into a perversely poetic punishment for their human tormentors.

No wonder Californians overwhelmingly approved Proposition 12 in 2018, the Animal Cruelty Prevention Act, which bans the extreme confinement of mother pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens, and bans the state’s sale of pork. veal and eggs produced by such cruel farming methods.

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By setting a standard for products sold in the California market—a standard to which all state and foreign manufacturers must adhere—California has acted in the best tradition of states as laboratories of democracy and adopted requirements that other states might then follow. imitate and it could eventually be adopted by Congress as a statewide requirement. So far, six states have passed similar legislation following California’s example, just as California followed suit in Massachusetts.

The pork industry challenged the California law, arguing that it violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution because it improperly regulated interstate commerce. A federal district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument. But the Supreme Court took the case, National Pork Producers Council vs. Ross, and heard oral arguments this month.

Under long-standing legal principles, states are free to adopt reasonable rules to regulate what can be sold to people in those states—including how goods are made—so long as the regulations do not discriminate against out-of-state products or irrationally burden interstate commerce.

Accordingly, the courts upheld Maryland’s restrictions on in-state gasoline sales that affected the operations of some out-of-state refineries; Kentucky’s price gouging law, the application of which to online sales was allegedly intended to affect the prices of out-of-state goods; and a Colorado law requiring 20% ​​of electricity sold to Colorado consumers to come from renewable sources, regardless of where it was generated.

It makes sense for California to require foreign businesses that want to sell their meat products there to meet the same standards as California businesses. Exemption outside states could give them an unfair cost advantage. Furthermore, Californians should have every right to recognize that a pig or chicken abused in Iowa or Missouri suffers no less than a pig or chicken abused in California—and that food produced by inhumane methods, regardless of where it was produced, could infect Californians. with an alimentary disease.

Of course, agribusinesses would love to see bills like Proposition 12 repealed, which we see as another way to deregulate markets and strip government of the power to protect public health and safety. And they’re hoping that the Supreme Court, which has at times proven extraordinarily accommodating to business interests, will do just that.

If this case was about economic protectionism, there would be good reason for the Supreme Court to intervene. However, California law does not favor state-owned businesses. And it does not burden interstate activities that outweigh the benefits to state residents.

If the Supreme Court adopts the position advocated by pork producers, the number and variety of state laws that could end up on the chopping block would be hard to guess. Therefore, 14 other states and the District of Columbia urged the court to reject the argument.

If California loses, the case could set the pattern for making a federal case out of virtually every state regulation that fails to exempt out-of-state manufacturers, including regulations on pollution, global climate and child exploitation. Such a result would require federal judges to evaluate state standards on a case-by-case basis in determining whether the public benefit outweighs the costs or burdens of complying with those standards.

If the industry wants its animal cruelty and health preferences to crowd out those of the millions of Californians who voted for Proposition 12, it’s barking up the wrong tree. Rather than involve the federal courts in this flawed constitutional challenge, it should compete in the democratic marketplace of ideas in Congress, which has the primary power to regulate interstate commerce.


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