The Supreme Court has rejected the arguments of hog farmers that California’s Proposition 12, which bans the sales of pork coming from sows confined in gestation crates, violates the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

“While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said in the opinion, which was joined by four other justices.

Chief Justice Roberts filed a separate opinion concurring in part but also dissenting. He and three other colleagues would have sent the case back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reexamine the allegations using what is called the Pike balancing test.

“I would find that petitioners have plausibly alleged a substantial burden against interstate commerce, and would therefore vacate the judgment and remand the case for the court below to decide whether petitioners have stated a claim under Pike,” he wrote.

Pike, the petitioners argued, requires that courts examine the burden imposed by a state law on interstate commerce and prevent its enforcement if those burdens are “excessive” as compared to the “putative local benefits.”

The opinion was fractured, with justices explaining their reasoning in separate opinions on the different arguments made by the petitioners.

NPPC and the American Farm Bureau Federation sought to overturn the 9th Circuit decision, claiming that it will force the highly integrated pork industry to spend billions of dollars to reconfigure itself for California’s market. Opponents, most notably the state of California, said Prop 12 applies to all pork producers equally, whether they’re in California or not.

The National Pork Producers Council said it was still evaluating the decision, but NPPC President Scott Hays said the group is "very disappointed."

"Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation."

The North American Meat Institute also expressed disappointment.

“Prop 12 remains a costly burden to producers and provides no benefit to animals or consumers,” NAMI President and CEO Julie Anna Potts said.  “We are disappointed in the court’s decision and will carefully study the ruling to determine next steps.”

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But Humane Society of the U.S. President and CEO Kitty Block said HSUS is "delighted that the Supreme Court has upheld California Proposition 12 – the nation’s strongest farm animal welfare law – and made clear that preventing animal cruelty and protecting public health are core functions of our state governments."

"We won’t stop fighting until the pork industry ends its cruel, reckless practice of confining mother pigs in cages so small they can’t even turn around," Block said. "It’s astonishing that pork industry leaders would waste so much time and money on fighting this commonsense step to prevent products of relentless, unbearable animal suffering from being sold in California." 

And Brian Frazelle, senior appellate counsel attorney at the Constitutional Accountability Center, said "the court made clear that a state’s health and safety regulations do not become unconstitutional simply because out-of-state companies may have to spend money obeying those laws in order to sell products within the state."

Gorsuch’s opinion "also firmly rejected the idea that judges may strike down a state’s consumer protection laws 'based on nothing more than their own assessment of the relevant law’s costs and benefits.'"

"Embracing the arguments presented in our amicus brief for law professors Barry Friedman and Daniel Deacon, the opinion stresses that the so-called 'dormant Commerce Clause,' on which the pork producers based their lawsuit, is fundamentally about preventing state economic protectionism," Frazelle said. "It does not give judges a license 'to reassess the wisdom of state legislation.' Policy choices like these instead 'belong to the people and their elected representatives.'"

This story has been updated with reaction and will continue to be updated.

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