Supreme Court backs California’s pigs proposition

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La May 12, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Supreme Court backs California’s pigs proposition

Because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday, California’s Proposition 12 can stand — which means the pigs can, too.

In 2018, California voters approved the ballot measure to ban the sale of meat and egg products from farms that did not raise their “veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens” in spaces that give them room enough to stand up and turn around. The proposition was supposed to go into effect in 2022, but two out-of-state organizations, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, sued to stop the measure.

The Supreme Court sided with California voters in a 5 to 4 ruling that didn’t follow the typical conservative-liberal split. In the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that rather than California regulating out-of-state businesses unconstitutionally, it is the businesses that are attempting to restrict a state’s ability to “regulate goods sold within their borders.” He was joined by Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.

  • Gorsuch: “Consider an example. Today, many States prohibit the sale of horsemeat for human consumption…. Under the lead dissent’s test, all it would take is one complaint from an unhappy out-of-state producer and — presto — the Constitution would protect the sale of horsemeat.”

In their partial dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Brett Kavanaugh said that the measure would place a “substantial burden against interstate commerce”:

  • Roberts, in his opinion: “Petitioners identify broader, market-wide consequences of compliance — economic harms that our precedents have recognized can amount to a burden on interstate commerce…. California has enacted rules that carry implications for producers as far flung as Indiana and North Carolina.” 

Because 99% of the pork Californians eat comes from out of state, opponents of the proposition argued that the measure gave California an outsized role in restricting interstate commerce, running afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Producers estimated their costs would rise by 9% to comply with the rule, and the Biden administration stood with the pork producers, saying the measure would throw “a giant wrench into the workings of the interstate market in pork.”

Supporters of Prop. 12 argued that because the measure didn’t give California farmers and producers any sort of advantage, it wasn’t unconstitutional. It’s also common for states to pass regulations on what kinds of commodities are sold in their state. This session, legislators are considering a bill that would ban the sale of food products in California that contain certain chemicals linked to health issues

In practical terms, the proposition will expand the industry standard of space for pigs from 14 to 20 square feet to a requirement of at least 24 square feet. Though some animal welfare advocates say the measure didn’t go far enough to protect animals, others nonetheless celebrated Thursday’s ruling, calling it the country’s “strongest farm animal welfare law.” 

  • Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society, in a statement: “It’s astonishing that pork industry leaders would waste so much time and money on fighting this commonsense step to prevent products of relentless, unbearable animal suffering from being sold in California.”

Reparations calculator: CalMatters has created an interactive tool to estimate how much someone might be owed in reparations for slavery and racism, under recommendations going from a task force to the Legislature and governor. Look it up here, watch a TikTok about it (from our engagement team and featuring CalMatters data journalist Erica Yee), see it on Instagram and read the full story from Wendy Fry of CalMatters’ California Divide team.


1 More budget cuts today?

Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils his budget proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year during a press briefing at the California Natural Resources Agency in Sacramento on Jan. 10, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who unveiled his initial 2023-24 budget in January, is set to release his updated proposal today in Sacramento. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff:

California’s budget picture was already gloomy back in January, when Gov. Gavin Newsom put forward his plan to deal with a projected deficit of more than $22 billion.

In the months since, it’s only gotten worse.

Monthly tax receipts have come in billions of dollars below forecasts. There’s the looming threat of a recession. And most Californians don’t even have to file their income taxes until October, creating a whole new layer of uncertainty about just how much money the state will have next fiscal year.

So when Newsom unveils his revised budget proposal this morning, it will be a more tentative kickoff than usual to the next month of negotiations.

Expect the governor to pump the brakes on some spending and programs California committed to over the past few years, with the potential for even more rollbacks later if the economy goes south.

The Legislature, which must pass a budget by June 15 to get paid, has been optimistic about the situation. Leaders argue they have plenty of other fiscal tools at their disposal to avoid deep spending cuts — including raising taxes, which Senate Democrats pitched last month and Newsom quickly rejected.

With less money to go around, however, the challenge is getting everyone to agree about what should take the hit. Some lawmakers have already raised objections to potential cuts for climate programs and public transit funding that the governor proposed in January.

It will be the first budget process for many of them; nearly a third of the entire Legislature was newly elected in November. And aside from a brief downturn at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, most have faced only surpluses and growing revenues during their tenures. Because of term limits, there are only a handful of legislators who were around during the last recession more than a decade ago.

More budget news: While today’s budget plan unveiling may be mostly about cuts, on Thursday Newsom highlighted more spending — specifically $290 million to go towards flood protection in California.

As CalMatters’ water reporter Alastair Bland explains, that money includes the $40 million to restore San Joaquin Valley floodplains that the governor proposed pulling in January. Amidst a record rain season and damaging floods that displaced thousands of California residents, it was a move that baffled local leaders, legislators and conservationists.

One leader from a Stockton-based environmental justice group told Alastair that while she approved the governor’s action, more money will be needed to protect the Central Valley from catastrophic flooding.

  • Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta: “We’re still not where we need to be. That may take work through several state budgets to get fully adjusted, but more will have to be done to prepare for climate change.”

The rest of the $290 million will go towards supporting local flood control projects, expanding disaster relief programs, helping businesses impacted by the recent storms and other projects. The governor said the $290 million is on top of $202 million he already set aside for flood investments in his initial budget.

2 Caste bill passes Senate, easily

State Sen. Aisha Wahab, a Hayward Democrat, on the Senate floor at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Jan. 4, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
Sen. Aisha Wahab on the Senate floor at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Jan. 4, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

From CalMatters Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal: 

A high-profile bill to protect Californians from caste discrimination cruised through the state Senate on Thursday, with little debate following heated committee hearings earlier in the session. It heads next to the Assembly, where it could face more opposition. 

Senate Bill 403, introduced by Sen. Aisha Wahab, a first-term Democrat from Fremont, would amend the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Fair Employment and Housing Act to add “caste” as a protected category.

  • Wahab, to CalMatters: “This clearly shows that this is the right thing to do and my colleagues agree… We understand that some people are a little bit more concerned with the opposition and everyone has to vote their district and their conscience. But I think that the majority of the Senate believes this is the right thing to do.” 

About a dozen Sacramento-area supporters rushed to the Capitol in support of the bill when they learned it was coming up for a vote. Raj Kumar Sood, a truck driver, said the bill is “about human rights for everybody.” He also compared the bill to one that cracks down on drunk driving — anyone who isn’t committing a violation doesn’t need to worry.

But the measure has been opposed by groups who say its language unfairly targets South Asians. Caste systems — social hierarchies that determine where people can work or who they can marry, for example — span different countries, but remain prominent in South Asia, despite being outlawed.

The Hindu American Foundation, which opposes the bill, tweeted that it was “disappointed…but not surprised by the utter lack of moral courage displayed” by the Senate.

  • Samir Kalra, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation, told CalMatters: “We all want to solve issues of discrimination, but there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. And the wrong way is this bill.”

Senate Republican leader Brian Jones of El Cajon was the sole “no” vote in the 34-1 tally. He said he was not convinced such a contentious bill was necessary. “It seems duplicative and unnecessarily divisive,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s my duty to represent my constituents in Sacramento and I stand with them in opposition to SB 403.”

Wahab told CalMatters she has “no idea” whether the bill will proceed as easily in the Assembly: “We’re going to have to spend a lot of time on educating the public, as well as the Assembly members, who I still have to also get to know and explain why this is so important.”

3 The hardest hit by hospital closure

The Madera water tower in a north neighborhood of the city on Jan. 7, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
The Madera water tower in a north neighborhood of the city on Jan. 7, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

From Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team:

A new community survey shows that Punjabi Sikh residents and farmworkers from indigenous backgrounds are particularly affected by the closure of the Madera Community Hospital, advocates say.

After years of financial struggles, the 106-bed hospital and its three clinics shut down completely in early January, stunning a primarily Latino and low-income community that relied on the hospital’s services. The mostly rural, agricultural county no longer has an emergency room, and residents have been forced to travel longer distances to seek both emergency and preventative care.

On Thursday, two Central Valley nonprofits warned the months without a hospital may be hitting some of the region’s most vulnerable residents harder than many realized — especially if those residents already struggled with healthcare access due to language barriers.

Representatives from the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities, a nonprofit working with indigenous farmworkers in the Central Valley and the Central Coast, and the Jakara Movement, a Central Valley organization that works with Punjabi Sikh residents, said more than 90% of the 300 Madera County residents they interviewed were affected by the hospital’s closure.

In other survey results:

  • More than 60% have had to travel to community medical centers in Fresno to get healthcare;
  • About 15% didn’t know where to go for healthcare or emergency services;
  • More than 60% of indigenous farmworkers said they were not informed about the hospital closure;
  • Nearly 80% of Punjabi Sikh residents said they were “very concerned’ about the effects of the hospital’s closure to their health and their family’s health;
  • More than 52% of the farmworkers said they didn’t have a reliable way to travel to the next closest hospital.

Community health care workers who conducted the surveys said some residents told of waiting as long as eight hours a county away in overcrowded emergency rooms, struggling to take time off from work to make it to appointments and arriving at the Madera hospital with an injury only to learn it was closed.

Local leaders spoke in favor of Assembly Bill 112, which would assist smaller hospitals in financial trouble, and urged the state to take action to reopen the Madera hospital as quickly as possible. They also called for the establishment of a state task force to not just investigate the rural hospital crisis, but also incorporate the voices of those most impacted.

  • Naindeep Singh, the Jakara Movement’s executive director: “If the state is going to provide the public funds to save the hospital, then the most marginalized communities need to have a place at the table.” 

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters is on vacation this week; his next column will appear Monday.


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Reservoirs are brimming, so why might SF pay more for water? // The San Francisco Standard

See you next week


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