Supreme Court Allows California’s Prop 12 To Stand

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected pork producers’ challenge to the California law requiring pork sold in the state to come from hogs raised in pens that meet a minimum size.  In their multi-faceted and split decision released this Thursday morning, the court ultimately allowed Proposition 12 to stand, rejecting arguments from the National Pork Producers Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, 26 state attorneys general, and even the Biden Administration’s solicitor general that the voter-approved measure was a violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.  California voters in 2018 passed Proposition 12 with 62 percent of the vote.

Delivering the court’s opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that district courts and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled correctly that producer groups failed to state a claim when challenging the law’s constitutionality.  Gorsuch suggested that the groups instead wanted the courts 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,” end quote.  He went on to add that while the Constitution addresses many issues, “the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”

Justices were generally in agreement to three of Gorsuch’s arguments but fractured on the application of a court case from 1970, Pike v Bruce Church.  While several justices argued over the nature of its application, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote dissenting opinions, which received support from Justices Samuel Alito and Ketanji Brown Jackson.  Roberts wrote that pork producers had sufficiently alleged that the law caused substantial burden on interstate commerce and that the case should have been sent back to the Ninth Circuit.  Kavanaugh added that through Prop 12, California was attempting to: “unilaterally impose its moral and policy preferences for pig farming and pork production on the rest of the Nation.”  Kavanaugh says this undermines federalism and the authority of individual states, and could lead to laws where states ban the sale of products from states that don’t pay their workers a certain wage or rely on the labor of undocumented migrant workers.

In a statement following the release of the decision, Monroe City pork producer and current National Pork Producers Council president Scott Hays said: “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.”