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AG Nessel and Coalition Win Victory in Supreme Court Challenge to State Sovereignty

LANSING – The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a coalition of State Attorneys General, co-led by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, in support of the sovereign authority of states to regulate matters of importance within their borders. In the amicus brief filed last August in support of National Pork Producers Council, et al v Karen Ross, the coalition of Attorneys General urged the Supreme Court to protect the ability of states to regulate industries within their borders.

The case involved a challenge to California’s Proposition 12, a voter-approved law that regulates certain farm animal confinement and forbids the in-state sale of pork meat that comes from breeding pigs (or their immediate offspring) if the animals are “confined in a cruel manner.” The National Pork Producers Council, along with the American Farm Bureau Federation, filed suit alleging an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce, namely, the dormant Commerce Clause. The petitioners also alleged that, because California imports almost all the pork it consumes, most of Proposition 12’s compliance costs would be borne by out-of-state firms.

Michigan’s and Illinois’ brief first described why petitioners’ proposed standard--which takes a quite broad view of the dormant Commerce Clause and extraterritoriality principles--was inconsistent with both historical tradition and the Court’s precedent. The brief then explained how petitioners’ proposed standard was overbroad and could unduly implicate various areas where states have traditionally exercised their police powers to protect the public welfare.     

The district court held that the petitioners’ complaint failed to state a claim as a matter of law and dismissed the case. The Ninth Circuit affirmed that judgment and the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the Ninth Circuit Court’s judgment.

“It’s heartening to know that the Supreme Court has upheld the ability of states to respond to the needs and interests of those who live within their borders,” Nessel said. “People rely on their state governments to pass laws that shield them from harm when they purchase goods, procure professional services, and engage in financial transactions. This Supreme Court ruling defends decades of precedent and upholds states’ authority to pass laws that ensure the safety and welfare of their residents.” 

In his opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the Court rejected “petitioners’ theories that would place Proposition 12 in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause even though petitioners do not allege the law purposefully discriminates against out-of-state economic interests . . .  state laws offend this dormant aspect of the Commerce Clause when they seek to ‘build up . . . domestic commerce’ through ‘burdens upon the industry and business of other States.’”

The Court reiterated that antidiscrimination principles lie at the very core of the dormant Commerce Clause doctrine, that the Commerce Clause prohibits the enforcement of state laws that are driven by economic protectionism—that is, regulatory measures that are designed to benefit in-state economic interests by burdening out-of-state competitors. California’s law imposes the same burdens on in-state pork producers that it imposes on out-of-state pork producers. 

California’s Proposition 12 passed with 62.66 percent of the vote in 2018. The state planned to put the law into effect on January 1, 2022, but its implementation was delayed due to the court challenge. The law went into effect on September 1, 2022.

In 2018, Michigan was home to more than 1.18 million hogs on more than 2,000 farms.

A coalition of 15 states signed onto the amicus brief:  Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.  


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