Animal rights case could impact federalism and weaken the Constitution

A case before the United States Supreme Court could have surprising, and perhaps counter-intuitive, implications for supporters of federalism and the long-protected ability of states and municipalities to regulate their own commerce and adopt what the generally called ‘morals-based’ legislation.

The nine judges on October 11 heard arguments in National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) v. Rosswhich is concentrated around California Proposal 12a law passed in 2018 with overwhelming support from voters of both political parties.

The law sets minimum public safety and animal welfare standards for pork and eggs produced or sold within state borders. These requirements state that pigs used for breeding, laying hens and calves reared for veal must have sufficient space to simply turn around and stretch out their limbs. The Proposition 12 guidelines parallel those successfully implemented by hundreds of restaurants, grocery stores and food businesses, and by many farmers across the country.

Concerns about the welfare of food animals go beyond those of the animals themselves. Many health experts have weighed in on the threat to human health posed by the extreme confinement of pigs. In a memorial filed in court in the NPPC case, the American Public Health Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Center for Food Safety and others wrote that confining female pigs in crates causes them tremendous stress, making them more vulnerable to diseases that can be transmitted to their piglets. The implications are very real: Hundreds of thousands of Americans sick each year from contaminated pork.

Indeed, Proposition 12 specifically implemented these concerns, prohibiting the sale – within the state – of specified farm animal products if the animals were raised under extreme conditions that are not merely “cruel,” but that state officials determine “threaten the health and safety of California.” consumers” by increasing (for example) the risk of “foodborne illness”. Some conservative-leaning states, it must be said, have banned gestation crates within their borders, including Ohio, Arizona, and Florida.

However, some multinational pork companies are pushing back against voters’ wishes and have taken legal action to overturn the law. Courts from Iowa to California have rejected claims by these companies that states cannot set standards on products sold within their borders.

In the court of public opinion, pork producers are hoping to capitalize on conservatives’ often reflexive antipathy to progressive California tendencies that often violate free market principles. But there is one vital element that some right-wing voices seem not to have fully considered. If the court rules in favor of pork producers, it could wreak havoc on the Constitution’s federalist system of government and open the door for liberal activist judges to strike down dozens of state and local laws across the country that are based on values ​​that many conservatives claim as their own.

The long-standing power of the state to advance public morals, including the prevention of cruelty to animals, has traditionally included the power to keep immoral products off the market. The Supreme Court has long respected the “broad powers of the state to regulate commerce and protect the public environment” and the “right to maintain a decent society.” (Theater for adults of Paris I c. Slaton.) If the court were to restrict California’s exercise of its traditional morality-based legislative authority in this case, that restriction would deprive other states of that authority as well.

Existing laws that could be compromised by NPPC c. Ross include those that regulate the sale of alcohol, block the trafficking of stolen goods, prohibit the sale of fetal tissue, prohibit prostitution, and restrict gambling.

Conservatives can debate the merits of such laws, but we can agree that these issues should remain at least partially within the purview of state and local governments. Notably, Proposition 12 does not attempt to project California’s moral views outside the state and is consistent with the federalist principle that states and municipalities make laws that suit their own communities. Blocking that capability would open the door for politicians and bureaucrats in Washington to fill the void with one-size-fits-all mandates, thereby encouraging the federal government to impose its own value judgments.

The Founding Fathers wanted the states to retain extensive power and not cede it entirely to the federal government, including the power to regulate commerce within their own borders. If the Supreme Court sided with pork producers in NPPC v. Ross, this constitutional principle would be significantly weakened.

Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a public policy advocacy organization that promotes freedom, opportunity, and prosperity for all Americans. Follow him on Twitter @MarioHlopez.

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