As the Supreme Court prepares to hear pork producers’ challenge to a California initiative setting minimum sizes for pig cages, animal-rights advocates told the court Monday that the law protects Californians from complicity in cruelty to animals. The Biden administration, however, is siding with the pork companies.
Proposition 12, approved by more than 62% of the state’s voters in 2018, required producers of breeding pigs to house them in cages of at least 24 square feet, providing enough room for them to turn around. It also set standards for cages that hold egg-laying hens and veal calves, and banned the sale in California of meat from animals held in cages that violated those standards.
The National Pork Producers Council and allied groups argued in a lawsuit that Prop. 12 unconstitutionally interferes in interstate commerce, saying it would drive up the price of a product that is produced almost entirely in other states and that the measure serves no legitimate state interest. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed last year , saying the law merely increased production costs and did not disrupt commerce, but the Supreme Court granted review of the producers’ appeal in March. A hearing is scheduled for October, with a ruling due by next summer.
Supporters of California’s position filed arguments Monday, including the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Justice for Animals program at University of San Francisco School of Law. One legitimate state interest promoted by Prop. 12, they said, was that it “ensures that California residents … are not complicit in the production of meat products by cruel means.”
Pigs are “highly intelligent, curious, empathetic, social beings,” the advocates said, citing a study that found female pigs could identify their newborn piglets by voice. “As such, they deserve to at least be allowed to turn around in their enclosures,” they added in a brief written by the Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic.
Meanwhile, nationwide representatives of local governments told the court a ruling against Prop. 12 could endanger a wide range of regulations unrelated to animal confinement.
A finding that California’s rules for pig cages disrupt interstate commerce “would jeopardize countless types of local laws that protect the public,” said the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. They said the same logic could be applied, for example, to hazardous-waste laws that ban bulk loading of crude oil from any state onto tankers in local ports, or Chicago’s anti-graffiti law banning sales of spray paint, which is produced mostly in other states.
And four constitutional law professors told the court the case could determine “whether states can continue to serve as laboratories of democracy.”
Fourteen states, led by Illinois, and the District of Columbia also filed arguments supporting California. Arguments backing the pork producers have been filed by 26 states, led by Indiana, along with the Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations.
In a filing in June , President Biden’s Justice Department said Prop. 12 would have a substantial effect on commerce in other states, raising costs of pork production and leading to consumer price increases. The filing noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates production but does not set minimum space requirements for cages. The Justice Department also said California officials have proposed regulations that would allow them to inspect out-of-state producers at least once a year before certifying them to sell pork in the state.
“California has no legitimate interest in protecting the welfare of animals located outside the state” or in “banning products that pose no threat to public health or safety based on philosophical objections to out-of-state production methods,” Justice Department attorneys wrote.
The case is National Pork Producers Council v. Ross, 21-468.