By Emily Hoeven
Although it deals primarily with pigs, the California case that had oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday could potentially result in a decision as far-reaching as those striking down federal abortion protections and expanding gun rights.
At issue is Proposition 12, the ballot measure California voters approved in 2018 requiring bigger cages for certain farm animals, including breeding pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens. Pork producers sued, arguing that since 99% of the pork consumed in the Golden State comes from outside its borders, California was essentially imposing its laws on other states in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
- Joining the pork producers in opposing the California law: The Biden administration, which argued in court filings that it would throw “a giant wrench into the workings of the interstate market in pork.”
Both conservative and liberal justices on the nation’s highest court seemed skeptical of California’s law on Tuesday, even as they expressed concerns about the implications of striking it down. A ruling is expected by next summer.
- Justice Amy Coney Barrett wondered about the ripple effects of upholding the law: “Could you have California pass a law that said we’re not going to buy any pork from companies that don’t require all their employees to be vaccinated, or from corporations that don’t fund gender-affirming surgery?”
- Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked: “What about a law that says you can’t sell fruit in our state if it’s produced — handled by people who are not in the country legally? Is that state law permissible?”
- But Barrett also wondered what might happen if the court strikes the law down: Could that decision “call into question a lot of laws that are pretty common?”
- Justice Elena Kagan gave the example of a New York law requiring imported firewood to be sprayed with a certain pesticide before entering the state. “Would that be forbidden?” Kagan asked. “We live in a divided country, and the balkanization that the framers (of the Constitution) were concerned about is surely present today.”
The line of questioning reflects the growing ideological divide between the states, which appear increasingly intent on regulating — and responding to — actions in other parts of the country as culture wars intensify over such issues as abortion, LGBTQ rights and gun control.
For example, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed into law a bill to protect from out-of-state prosecution transgender youth who travel to California for what supporters call gender-affirming care. He also signed a bill — modeled on a Texas law allowing private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy — to allow private Californians to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells certain illegal firearms.
And he signed a package of reproductive justice bills to, among other things, help pay for low-income women from other states to travel to California for an abortion and prohibit the Golden State from cooperating with law enforcement in states where the procedure is criminalized.
“In state after state, fundamental freedoms are vanishing,” Newsom said in an ad released Monday in support of Prop. 1, which would enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the California constitution. “But this November, we say, ‘Not here.’”