Does a state have a right to tell farmers in other states how to grow their food?
Thirteen states suing Massachusetts filed a brief petitioning the U.S. Supreme to hear their case this week.
“This case affects every producer, distributor, and consumer of eggs, pork, and veal in the country, and it implicates fundamental constitutional principles of horizontal federalism and interstate comity,” the brief filed on Wednesday reads. “The Court should hear it.”
The brief pertains to whether the Bay State’s animal cruelty law impinges on the rights of other states under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. A 2016 state ballot question, which passed by a greater than 3-to-1 margin, prohibits Massachusetts businesses from selling pork, shelled eggs, or veal from “any farm owner or operator … knowingly confining any breeding pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely.”
The litigation concerns not Massachusetts regulations pertaining to in-state farmers but prohibitions on Massachusetts restaurants or stores buying products from out-of-state farmers who do not abide by Massachusetts law. Farmers impacted by laws passed beyond their state borders regard edicts as coastal states invested in agriculture more as consumers than producers dictating to heartland states more economically dependent on farming how they should conduct their business.
California soon enacts a similar law. Its voters passed a ballot question in November similar to the Massachusetts one challenged in this suit. This new law expands on an earlier one passed by California voters.
Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin join Indiana in suing Massachusetts.
Gary Baise, an attorney who came to the case through the involvement of Protect the Harvest — a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the freedoms of consumers, farmers, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts, animal owners, and others threatened by animal-rights extremism — in the legal challenges, views the Massachusetts law as unconstitutional.
“This will be hopefully the first major challenge to states saying, ‘We don’t want your protein if it’s raised a certain way,’” Baise tells The American Spectator. “That looks like a violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause.”
The states imposing animal-cruelty standards on veal, pork, and eggs argue that their laws pertain to public health, and that these concerns trump Commerce Clause arguments.
“The Court should step in,” the brief reads, “not only to prevent Massachusetts from imposing this specific policy on other States, but also to resolve the broader question whether the Commerce Clause permits States to close their markets to products created under disfavored conditions having no relation to the quality of the product itself — a question on which the circuit courts are divided.”
Baise hopes that the dispute between the states and the Constitutional questions the case raises prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to consider it.
“In 1787, we were an agricultural society,” he tells The American Spectator. “The Commerce Clause countered the states putting up barriers. What we really did in 1787 was create a free-trade zone. California and Massachusetts, where the Humane Society of the United States and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have enormous influence, they say, ‘We want our food raised in a certain way.’”
Baise, Protect the Harvest, and thirteen states do not believe states retain such rights over other states. While a favorable decision by the High Court does not indicate agreement, it will at least allow the competing sides to settle the question.