Ah, California – the land of sun, beaches, and unconstitutional animal rights laws.
Remember back in 2008 (I know, reach waaay back), when the state passed a ballot measure about raising chickens? If you don’t:
Californian voters approved a ballot measure in 2008 requiring California egg producers to provide additional room in chicken coops for egg-laying hens. The ballot initiative, according to research done by the University of California at Davis, will increase the costs of egg production in the state by 20 percent, putting out-of-state egg producers at a large competitive advantage. In order to protect California farmers, the state legislature passed a law requiring all eggs sold in California to be from chickens with coops big enough to meet the requirements set by the 2008 initiative. Out-of-state egg producers will either be unable to send eggs to California, or they will have to make large capital investments in order to supply part of the 180 million dozen eggs California annually imports from the rest of the country.
I certainly don’t claim to be a Constitutional scholar, but this type of law is a clear violation. Imposing California’s restrictions on egg producers in other states is a clear violation of the Commerce Clause. How?
The Commerce Clause says that Congress shall have the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.” Most related litigation has involved what is called the dormant Commerce Clause, which the courts have inferred from the text of the Constitution. Quoting Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, the majority opinion in the Carbone case reads: “The central rationale for the rule against discrimination is to prohibit state or municipal laws whose object is local economic protectionism, laws that would excite those jealousies and retaliatory measures the Constitution was designed to prevent.” The courts have allowed for exceptions, when the state has no other way to meet “legitimate local concerns,” and when the effects on interstate commerce are “incidental.” California legislators tried to meet that exception by claiming that Californians had a public health interest in the legislation, but as the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has pointed out while discussing the different methods of raising poultry: “The agency does not know of any valid scientific information that shows that any specific type of chicken has more or less salmonella bacteria than other poultry.” Not only that, but 180 million cartons of eggs stopped at a state border by the egg patrol are hardly incidental to commerce.
To put it simply, it has been the genius of the American system that we have free trade between states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing in the Lopez decision, added that regulations that treat in-state and out-of-state businesses the same are still unconstitutional if they overly burden interstate commerce: “One element of our dormant Commerce Clause jurisprudence has been the principle that the States may not impose regulations that place an undue burden on interstate commerce, even where those regulations do not discriminate between in-state and out-of-state businesses.”
In short, one state may not impose “unduly burdensome” regulations on commerce from another state. If the chicken laws are increasing production costs by 20%, I’d say that is certainly an “unduly burdensome” regulation. California’s only goal in imposing these requirements on out-of-state producers is so they can protect their own farmers and try to level the new, unfair, playing field.
Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster reportedly plans to file suit in federal court, arguing that California’s laws are unconstitutional. And this is important. Because if California can get away with it, or any other state for that matter, then the voters of just one state can rule them all.