Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to California’s Prop 12 Farm Welfare Law

On March 28, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States granted a petition for a writ of certiorari in the case of National Pork Producers, et. al. v. Karen Ross, 21-468.  

The order means that the Supreme Court will hear a constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 12 farm animal confinement law.  Proposition 12 was passed by California voters in 2018 as a ballot initiative.  The law prohibits confining certain farm animals (egg-laying hens, veal calves, and breeding pigs) in a cruel manner (as defined by the law), and prohibits the sale of products from farm animals confined in a cruel manner in California. California consumers account for approximately 13 percent of pork consumption across the country.

The first phase of the law went into effect on January 1, 2020 and set requirements for cage sizes for egg-laying hens and veal.  The second phase of the law went into effect on January 1, 2022, and required egg-laying hens to be housed cage-free and breeding pigs to have 24 square feet per pig.

The National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation filed a lawsuit challenging Proposition 12.  The Ninth Circuit ruled against plaintiffs and upheld the law.  

Plaintiffs then filed a  petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Court to review this issue.  The petition states that the “massive costs of complying with Proposition 12 fall almost exclusively on out-of-state farmers” and that California’s law violates the Commerce clause.  Plaintiffs argued that a state law with dramatic economic effects outside of the state and requiring changes to the nationwide farm industry violate the dormant Commerce Clause.

In February 2022, a state superior court judge issued an order ruling that California suppliers, restaurants, and retailers would not be subject to enforcement measures for the law until 180 days after California issued final regulations.  Although Proposition 12 was passed in 2018, the state was delayed in issuing regulations and determining how the law would be enforced, particularly as to restaurants and retailers.