August 26, 2021

Court Denies Challenges to California Prop 12

Court Denies Challenges to California Prop 12

By: Sydney Sheffield 

After the disappointing rejection from the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had denied the petition from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) to rescind California’s Proposition 12 (Prop 12) as unconstitutional under the dormant Commerce Clause. 

Prop 12 establishes minimum space requirements for breeding pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens within the state. It also bans the sale of pork, veal, and eggs from animals raised elsewhere if their living conditions do not meet California’s standards. Read more about it in this May 2021 Taking Stock D.C. article.  

The dormant Commerce Clause refers to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution and gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, states, and Indian tribes. Historically, the clause has been used to justify exercising legislative power over the activities of states and their citizens. NPPC and AFBF argued that Prop 12 violates this clause because it would disrupt interstate trade by forcing out-of-state producers to change their operations to align with California’s standards. 

The court said that the petition "fails to make a plausible allegation that the pork production industry is of such national concern that it is analogous to taxation or interstate travel, where uniform rules are crucial. Although the complaint plausibly alleges that Proposition 12 will have an impact on a national industry, we have already held that such impacts do not render the state law impermissibly extraterritorial."

“We are disappointed in the court's decision and maintain our position on Prop 12: It is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause," NPPC spokesman Jim Monroe says. "We are evaluating the decision and our next steps."

On the other hand, Rebecca Cary, senior staff attorney at the Humane Society of the United States celebrated the court’s decision, stating “It affirms yet again what the meat industry should hear loud and clear by now: that states have the right to pass laws that reject cruel products and protect their citizens’ health and safety.”

Currently, only 4% of US hog operations meet the standards of the proposition. “We are very concerned about the potential supply impacts and therefore cost increases,” said Matt Sutton, the public policy director for the California Restaurant Association. If half the pork supply was gone in California due to producers being unable to meet standards, bacon prices would jump 60%, according to a study by the Hatamiya Group.

Jeannie Kim, a restaurant owner in California, states that she fears she could lose her breakfast-focused diner because of Prop 12, “Our number one seller is bacon, eggs, and hash browns,” said Kim. “It could be devastating for us.” California is home to a large population of Hispanic and Asian communities, who consider pork to be a cultural staple. “You know, I work and live with a lot of Asian and Hispanic populations in the city and their diet consists of pork. Pork is huge,” Kim said. “It’s almost like bread and butter.” 

Additionally, Kim told the Associated Press that she is especially worried about the small restaurants that specialize in Asian and Hispanic cuisine, because not every customers can afford the price increases. A lot of these restaurants were lucky to survive the COVID-19 shutdowns. Only time will tell how small businesses are able to cope with the additional stress of this proposition.