Justia Summary

California’s Proposition 12 forbids the in-state sale of whole pork meat that comes from breeding pigs (or their immediate offspring) that are “confined in a cruel manner.” Confinement is “cruel” if it prevents a pig from “lying down, standing up, fully extending [its] limbs, or turning around freely.” Opponents alleged that Proposition 12 violated the Constitution by impermissibly burdening interstate commerce, arguing that the cost of compliance with Proposition 12 will increase production costs and, because California imports almost all the pork it consumes, most of Proposition 12’s compliance costs will be borne by out-of-state firms.

The Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case, rejecting arguments under the dormant Commerce Clause. Absent purposeful discrimination, a state may exclude from its territory, or prohibit the sale therein of any articles which, in its judgment, fairly exercised, are prejudicial to the interests of its citizens. Proposition 12 imposes the same burdens on in-state pork producers that it imposes on out-of-state pork producers. Proposition 12 does not implicate the antidiscrimination principle.

The Court rejected an argument that its precedents include an “almost per se” rule forbidding enforcement of state laws that have the practical effect of controlling commerce outside the state, even when those laws do not purposely discriminate against out-of-state interests. While leaving the courtroom door open to challenges premised on even nondiscriminatory burdens, the Court noted that “extreme caution is warranted.”