lawsuit against the State of California.Earlier this week, Chris Koster, the attorney general of Missouri, filed an extraordinary
Koster is asking the federal court to overturn a California law set to take effect in 2015 that requires farmers across the country to conform to California regulations pertaining to the dimensions of cages for housing egg-laying hens.
Koster, who alleges in the suit that California law violates the U.S. Constitution, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Fresno—a conservative agricultural region of California—on behalf of the state of Missouri.
The issue is whether California lawmakers can dictate how farmers in other states raise their animals. The case raises serious constitutional questions about the California egg law—and other laws in the state.
"Is California," asked a Wall St. Journal blogger earlier this week, "simply by regulating the type of goods that flow into the state, actually sort of legislating in Missouri? And if, so, is that ok?"
The California law stems from a 2008 animal-rights voter initiative, Proposition 2, that requires farmers within California to increase the size of the living quarters of egg-laying hens in the state. In his lawsuit, Koster notes that the exact cage dimensions required under the law are unclear, and could range anywhere from 87 to 403 square inches. That's anywhere from larger than to much larger than current cages.
The problems with a California law that restricts California farmers only were obvious to the state's farmers and economists, among others.
"Experts predict the number of eggs imported into the state in order to meet consumer demand will swell once the ban takes effect, since out-of-state eggs are not subject to the ban," I wrote in a 2010 Chapman Law Review article, The "California Effect" & the Future of American Food. "One estimate indicates that Prop 2 could result in the elimination of most of the California egg industry and the loss of thousands of jobs, which could cost the state more than $370 million in gross sales and resulting tax receipts."
And the law's vagaries have vexed California poultry farmers.
So California did the sensible thing and repealed the law. Erm, no. Instead, California decided its bad law should apply to farms in all fifty states.
As Koster notes in a press release announcing the lawsuit, in 2010 California legislators voted to expand the law's reach, "requiring egg producers in other states—including Missouri—to comply with Proposition 2 themselves in order to continue selling their eggs in California."
Groups that supported Prop 2, like the Humane Society of the United States, also support the law's expansion.
The Kansas City Star editorial board also came out this week against Koster's lawsuit.
The paper argues that the California law "is reasonable." I disagree, though I think reasonable people can argue on that point insofar as the law governs only California farms. But any argument about the law being reasonable ends at the California border.
The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution provides that only the federal government may regulate interstate commerce. A well-known axiom of the Commerce Clause, the dormant Commerce Clause, holds that because only the federal government has such power, states may not also exercise such power.