Supreme Court Shuns Confinement Cases

In addition to declining to hear the foie gras challenge, the Supreme Court passed on the opportunity to weigh in on another farm animal welfare challenge, this time with respect to state laws regarding confinement. The two cases—filed by a combined total of 15 state attorneys general on behalf of their respective agriculture industries—challenged California and Massachusetts laws prohibiting the sale of eggs, pork, and veal from animals raised in extreme confinement. The California law provides specific space requirements for these animals, while the Massachusetts law prohibits them from being confined in a manner that “prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely.”

The 15 states had asked the Supreme Court to hear the case directly (rather than as an appeal from a lower court) in an exercise of the Supreme Court’s “original jurisdiction” over disputes between state governments. In response to a request by the court, however, US Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco submitted an amicus brief that contradicted the plaintiff states’ position. He argued that original jurisdiction was not merited and that the matter could be properly addressed initially at the district court level. While the decision has no bearing on the constitutionality of the California and Massachusetts laws, they remain in place, at least until the states and their agricultural producers find another way to sue.