Matt’s Blog: Supreme Court Delivers a Huge Win for Farm Animals

May 12, 2023

pigs in a crowded pigsty

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an opinion that represents a decisive victory for animals, people and the rule of law. Affirming the decisions of lower courts, the Supreme Court decisively stopped an attempt to halt California’s Proposition 12 (“Prop 12”), which prohibits the in-state sale of products from veal calves, mother pigs and egg-laying hens confined in a cruel manner. Prop 12 passed with 63% of the vote in 2018. 

The law requires cage-free and crate-free housing for these animals and applies to products from animals raised in California as well as products produced elsewhere and sold in California.

The Supreme Court’s decision was a rejection of the National Pork Producers Council’s claim that Prop 12’s ban on the sale of gestation crate pork is unconstitutional because it "burdens” out-of-state pork producers. Justice Gorsuch wrote, "Companies that choose to sell products in various states must normally comply with the laws of those various states.” 

Last August, the ASPCA filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of Prop 12, urging it to uphold Prop 12 based on our nation’s long-standing recognition that protecting the health and welfare of domestic animals is a legitimate government interest. We also advised the Court that, despite the industry’s claims to the contrary, many producers have already successfully segregated their supply chains, meaning they could easily segregate relevant portions of their business to be compliant with Prop 12’s requirements.  

The Court embraced both of these arguments in its opinion, mirroring the ASPCA’s recitation of our country’s history of legal protections for the health and welfare of domestic animals and acknowledging that the industry can segregate its supply chain to achieve compliance or choose not to comply with Prop 12 simply by not selling products in the State of California.

The movement to protect farm animals from cruelty goes well beyond California and even the realm of farm animal advocates. Fourteen states have banned these forms of cruel confinement, and many farms—especially in the egg industry—have already shifted to cage-free systems that match Prop 12 requirements. In addition, many large companies, including Tyson and Smithfield, have publicly stated that they will be able to comply with the law.

The ASPCA is proud to have played a role in persuading the Supreme Court to uphold Prop 12 and, in doing so, preserving landmark protections for pigs, chickens and calves; upholding the will of California voters; affirming state authority to fairly regulate commerce in the interest of animal welfare and public health; and broadly reinforcing that animal welfare remains an important government interest worthy of legal protection. 

We are also actively working to pass A.B. 1232, which will create a Resilient Farms and Ranches Grant program to help California producers adopt higher-welfare and welfare-certified practices. 

These policy and legal advances—and the animal welfare elevations they catalyze—bring us ever closer to an ultimate goal: ending the cruel and unnecessary confinement of farm animals nationwide.