The Supreme Court heard arguments in National Meat Association v. Harris, a case presenting the issue of whether the uniformity provisions of the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempt a 2008 California law, the requirements of which differ from federal law and regulations.
Uniformity and preemption provisions were added to the Federal Meat Inspection Act by Congress in 1967. These provisions were previously reviewed by the United States Supreme Court in 1977 in the case of Rath v. Jones, which also originated in California. In that case the high court reached a unanimous 9-0 decision that California’s additional and different requirements were preempted by the federal law.
National Meat Association was represented before the Court by attorney Stephen Wells of Minneapolis, Minn., and supporting argument was presented by Assistant Solicitor General Benjamin Horwich, representing the United States government and the United States Department of Agriculture.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has seen fit to review this important case, and we particularly appreciate the supporting arguments presented by the Solicitor General’s office on behalf of the United States. We look forward to the Court’s decision, which we hope and believe should be favorable,” National Meat Association CEO Barry Carpenter commented after the argument.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that nearly every justice who spoke at the one-hour hearing said the state law appeared to clash with federal slaughterhouse inspection rules that allow sales of meat from nonambulatory pigs, sheep and goats unless they show signs of certain diseases.
"When the federal law says you can (sell meat), that pre-empts the rule from the states that says you can't," said Chief Justice John Roberts.
Justice Stephen Breyer said California seemed to be imposing an "additional requirement (on) a federally inspected meat-packing facility," despite a 1958 federal law that barred states from regulating slaughterhouse facilities and operations.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan suggested the state lacked authority to go beyond nationwide standards to prevent sale of diseased meat from slaughterhouses.
And Justice Antonin Scalia said that as long as federal law allows U.S. agriculture officials to evaluate the condition of livestock at slaughterhouses and decide when meat is fit for sale, "California should butt out."
The Court will render its decision later in the current term, which concludes in June, 2012.
Source: NMA, San Francisco Chronicle