The High Court’s Hog Debate

Oct 14, 2022

Bacon took center stage at the Marble Palace (aka, the Supreme Court) Tuesday, and the jabs on both sides of the aisle were sizzling.

Oral arguments were heard in National Pork Producers v. Ross, with debate over California’s controversial Prop 12 hitting both moral and economic grounds.

Backstory: In 2018, California passed the proposition defining how much space sows, veal calves, and egg-laying hens should have in modern production facilities. The catch? It also banned the sale of animal-derived products that don’t comply with the regulations—even if they’re produced in other states.

99.87% of U.S. pork production happens outside of California and only 4% of U.S. sow facilities meet the Prop 12 standards. So, the National Pork Producers quickly challenged the law’s constitutionality…

And POTUS sided with pork: The Biden administration filed an amicus brief in June arguing Prop 12 “unduly restricts interstate commerce.”

SCOTUS soundbites:

  • Justice Samuel Alito: “Could a state say, ‘We’re really concerned about water shortages, so we’re going to prohibit … the sale within our borders of any almonds where the trees are irrigated’?”
  • Justice Neil Gorsuch: “We’re going to have to balance your veterinary experts against California’s veterinary experts, the economic interests of Iowa farmers against California’s moral concerns and their views about complicity in animal cruelty. Is that any job for a court of law?
  • Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson: “I don’t know what Iowa actually believes, but assume we have a state that thinks it’s not immoral to hold their sows in a particular way. To what extent does California get to control what Iowa does with respect to the housing of its pork?” 

Where this goes: We’re still not sure whether the Supreme Court will actually decide this case, depending on whether pork producers can prove Prop 12 would have a harsh economic impact on the other 49 states.

It’s possible the justices instead send the case back to a lower court to resolve that factual issue—which could be another 1-2 years of arguments.

Confused? So is the Supreme Court!