Constitution Daily

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States take egg fight with California to the Supreme Court

December 13, 2017 by Scott Bomboy


A group of 13 states wants the Supreme Court to directly take its complaints about new California egg laws that have blocked the sale of out-of-state eggs there that don’t meet certain cage conditions.

California’s egg law came in the aftermath of Proposition 2, which was passed by voters in 2008. It required more space for cooped chickens living in the state by January 1, 2015. Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a companion law in July 2010 that requires all eggs sold in the state, regardless of their origin, to come from chickens living in similar cages. Together, the two statutes are now referred to as the Egg Shell Laws.

In State of Missouri v. State of California, Missouri is joined by other major egg-producing states claiming the Constitution’s Commerce Clause prevents California from blocking eggs for sale produced outside the Golden State under different chicken-cage conditions.

“This case involves a single State’s attempt to dictate the manner of agricultural production in every other State. By its extraterritorial regulation of egg producers, California has single-handedly increased the costs of egg production nationwide by hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” claims Missouri in its bill of complaint to the Supreme Court.

Missouri also wants the Court to hear the case directly as an Article III original jurisdiction dispute among states. The state was involved in a similar lawsuit, State of Missouri v. Harris, in November 2016 that ended at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of federal judges there ruled for the state of California.

Judge Susan Graber’s opinion for the appeals court affirmed a lower-court decision that Missouri didn’t have the ability to sue on behalf of its egg producers. Graber also didn’t buy the argument that the Egg Shell Laws discriminated against out-of-state eggs. “The Shell Egg Laws do not distinguish among eggs based on their state of origin. A statute that treats both intrastate and interstate products alike is not discriminatory,” Graber said.

In its Supreme Court complaint, Missouri points to the Commerce Clause as a critical part of its argument. “The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits States from enacting legislation that intentionally discriminates against citizens of other States, that regulates conduct wholly outside their borders, or that places an undue burden on interstate commerce,” it states.

The Egg Shell Laws “constitute a protectionist measure that has the sole purpose and effect of increasing the regulatory burden on non-California egg producers to make them less competitive with California egg producers,” Missouri claims.

Missouri also believes the Egg Shell Laws violate a federal law that prevents states from establishing standards that differ from federal standards for eggs shipped between states.

The Supreme Court only grants a handful of original jurisdiction cases per year, if at all.

Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.


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