Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in National Pork Producers Council v. Ross. The Pork Producers and the American Farm Bureau Federation, as petitioners, are challenging the constitutionality of a 2018 voter initiative in California that imposed minimum space requirements for the confinement of breeding pigs that produce uncooked pork products for sale in the state. Defending the law was the State of California and the Humane Society of the United States.
By regulating the pork industry outside of California, the petitioners and critics of the law argue that it violates the doctrine of the dormant commerce clause, which prohibits state legislation that unduly burdens interstate or international commerce. The Biden Administration also opposes the California law, and argued that striking it down would not have a broader ripple effect on other laws.
During oral arguments, justices debated the balancing limits of the dormant commerce clause case law, expressed concerns that allowing the California law to stand could lead to a significant increase in conflict between the states, and questioned the ability of one state’s morality judgments should be imposed in other states. Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that residents in pork-producing states like Iowa and North Carolina might believe there is a moral value in providing a low-cost source of protein to others, but that if the California law is upheld, it would be California’s view on morality that would prevail because of its dominant role in the national economy.
Should the California law be upheld, the laws and rules about owning and breeding of all animals could be fundamentally changed, as some states could be empowered to effectively impose their restrictive views on animal breeding, care, and ownership on residents in other states The owning and breeding of pets (including competition dogs and pets sold via retail pet sore and retail rescues), using animals in scientific research, and farming animals for meat could all be fundamentally changed.
Interestingly, Justice Kagan noted that the case came to the Supreme Court before a trial on the merits of the claims was held; and that at such an early point in the proceedings, courts must accept the petitioner’s allegations as true. She asked whether it would be appropriate for the case to be sent back to a lower court to balance the burdens that the California law imposes on out-of-state commerce against the benefits to the state. This procedural issue may provide the court with an option to allow lower courts to consider the issue without the Supreme Court judging the case on the merits during this term.
The Court is expected to announce its decision in the case sometime in 2023.