Supreme Court Upholds California’s Proposition 12 on Pork Industry Restrictions

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, decided to uphold California’s Proposition 12 on animal welfare. The ruling clears the way for the state law that bans the commercial sale of products from farm animals (eggs, veal, and pork) that have been cruelly confined.     

The Supreme Court upheld the Ninth District Court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit by pork producers. They argued that Proposition 12, passed by California voters in 2018, violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which restricts states from regulating commerce outside their borders.

In October 2022, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from the plaintiffs, represented by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

In its ruling, the Court found that Proposition 12 did not violate the dormant Commerce Clause, although the justices reached that conclusion for different reasons.

In general, the Supreme Court focused on the fact that there was no intentional protectionism and the difficulty in measuring the benefits and burdens of the rule.

Related Article: Biden Administration, 26 Attorneys General and Business Groups Call on SCOTUS to Repeal Proposition 12

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion upholding Proposition 12. “Companies 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. But pork producers do not suggest that California’s law offends this principle.”

He added, “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.”

Justice Gorsuch stated, “While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”

Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Amy Coney Barret, and Elena Kagan supported Gorsuch’s opinion on Proposition 12. He concluded that the allegations in the lawsuit were legally insufficient to demonstrate a substantial burden on interstate commerce.

The dissenting opinion was led by Chief Justice John Roberts, who was joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

For his part, Scott Hays, president of the National Pork Producers Council, expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s ruling.  

“We are very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s opinion. Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation. We are still evaluating the Court’s full opinion to understand all the implications. NPPC will continue to fight for our nation’s pork farmers and American families against misguided regulations.”