The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that the California legislature overstepped its constitutional bounds when it enacted a law that changed slaughterhouse procedure regarding how to euthanize pigs, cows, and goats who are unable to walk into the slaughterhouse chute, according to Chute

The issue in the case was not the actual content of the California law consisting of  humane and safety questions, which formed the basis for the California law. Instead the Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled in favor of the National Meat Association who sued to block enforcement of the California state law because the justices determined that the state law was preempted by federal meat safety and inspection laws.

In its holding the Supreme Court reversed the previous ruling by the 9th Circuit.

The law was originally enacted after a video was released that showed some of the slaughterhouse killings in California. The state law that called for immediate euthanization of nonambulatory livestock used for consumption carried with it a punishment of up to 1 year in prison as well as a $20,000 fine for a single violation.

On the other hand the Federal Meat Inspection Act states that it is up to a federal investigator to determine whether these nonambulatory animals are fit for consumption. It also contains a provision that bars states from enacting legislation in the same arena.

This is where preemption comes in. Generally, the Tenth Amendment allows certain areas unregulated by the federal government to be left to the 50 states. However, when a federal law is either conflicts with a state law or the federal government explicitly states that they are to be the sole legislator in a particular arena this preempts states from enacting legislation in the same arena.

Here, since there was a clear provision in the federal law preventing the states from legislating it seems that the court came to the correct decision.

In the end the meat companies get what they want, which means less regulation with regards to their slaughterhouse killing techniques. That is until the Federal Meat Inspection Act is amended or a new federal law takes its place. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out in the rest of the United States.

The Supreme Court Case is National Meat Association v. Harris, No. 10-224.

What do you think?

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