The Supreme Court Could Undo Years of Animal Protection Efforts

The Supreme Court of the United States Could Undo Years of Animal Protection Efforts

In 2018, California voters achieved incredible progress for farmed animals by passing Prop 12, a ballot measure outlawing some of the most extreme forms of animal confinement throughout the Golden State. When it was passed, the measure was the strongest farmed animal protection law in the world. Now this groundbreaking progress is under attack.

Intensive confinement is one of the cruelest practices in the meat and egg industries. For mother pigs, it means being kept in cages during pregnancy that are barely larger than their bodies. For calves raised for veal, it means spending their short lives in tiny hutches. For laying hens, it means being crammed so tightly into wire cages that they can’t even spread their wings.

The meat industry—which values profits over animal well-being—is fighting back against Prop 12. After losing in a lower court, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down Prop 12. Their petition is supported by a wealth of special interest groups, including the North American Meat Institute and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Austin Frerick of the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale University described it well:

The ones complaining are the industrial operations that pack hogs into metal sheds that never see the light of day or even a blade of grass.

On March 28, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the meat industry’s case challenging Prop 12. In response, Mercy For Animals and other animal protection organizations urged members of Congress to request that the Biden administration support Prop 12 and change the position of the Trump-era Department of Agriculture on this issue. ​Mercy For Animals also launched a multiweek campaign encouraging our supporters to reach out to the USDA and ask that it withdraw the amicus brief it had filed in support of the pork industry and—instead—support Prop 12.

Unfortunately, in a move that went against public sentiment and California voters, the Biden administration recently filed a brief supporting the industry’s effort to strike down Prop 12. This puts the groundbreaking animal protection law in an even more precarious position. Professor Christopher Carter, a theologian at San Diego University, stated:

If the Supreme Court were to overturn the will of the 63% of voters in California who passed this measure, then this is not only a major setback for farmed animal advocacy, it also undermines a citizen’s belief that our democratic system can be used to effectively confer rights upon a marginalized group if the giving of those rights presents an “undue burden” on corporations.

On August 15 the Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of Prop 12. The brief was filed on behalf of a coalition of law professors and animal protection organizations, including Mercy For Animals. Attorney Rebecca Garverman, a clinical fellow at Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, stated: 

Our brief illustrates the cruelty and inhumanity of this kind of confinement with photographic and videographic evidence of pigs suffering in these horrific gestation crates. We urge the Supreme Court to uphold the right of states to regulate products sold within their borders by keeping the products of such cruelty off grocery shelves.

Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Program released a 60-page report that, among other things, details the many state laws and local ordinances that could be in jeopardy if the Supreme Court sides with the pork industry over California voters. 

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments regarding the case for October 11. As the meat industry remains relentless in its attacks against a voter-approved measure, Mercy For Animals will remain strong in its support of Prop 12. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to stay tuned on how you can support Prop 12.