Proposition 12 and the Supreme Court

What you need to know about the Supreme Court animal protection case: What’s at stake for the animals and your rights to protect them

Latest update:

On May 11, 2023, the Supreme Court affirmed the 9th Circuit’s dismissal of the case, thereby ending the case with Proposition 12 intact. The Court’s opinion vindicates the right of all of us to stand up and refuse to be complicit in cruel industries like the pork industry. The court said “[i]n a functioning democracy, those sorts of policy choices…belong to the people and their elected representatives.” It’s not huge corporations who get to decide it’s morally acceptable to commit cruelty for profit - the power to determine what’s morally allowable in society belongs to us. This is a monumental day for the principle that we all have the power – with our wallets and our political action as citizens –  to dismantle cruelty, and ultimately the animal ag industries that rely upon it to exist. 

What is Prop 12?

Proposition 12 is a California law, passed in a 2018 ballot initiative, that regulates the raising and sale of animals for food in California. Specifically, Prop 12 sets minimum space requirements for egg-laying hens, mother pigs, and baby cows raised for veal, such that these animals have enough space to spread their wings or limbs, turn around, and lie down. Prop 12 also requires that any eggs, “pork,” or “veal” sold in the state comply with these space requirements, regardless of where those products were produced.

The vote wasn’t even close–California voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Prop 12, making clear that they do not want to support the cruelest forms of intensive confinement in animal agriculture. 

What is the Supreme Court case about?

The animal agriculture industry turned to the courts, filing several lawsuits seeking to block Prop 12. Every court to review each of these cases, both at the trial and appellate levels, ruled against the plaintiffs. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear one of these cases, National Pork Producers Council v. Ross, where the pork industry attempted to nullify Prop 12. On May 11, 2023, the Supreme Court affirmed the 9th Circuit’s dismissal of the case, thereby ending the case with Proposition 12 intact.

What was this case really about? Confining pigs for nearly their entire lives in cages so small they can’t turn around.

The pork industry wants to be able to continue using so-called “gestation crates” anywhere it sells its products. This is confinement of a 500 pound animal in a two-foot wide prison. Gestation crates are metal cages in which pigs are kept during their pregnancies, moved to another similar type of cage for birthing and the nursing period, and then back to the gestation crates for another artificial insemination and pregnancy, for years, until the animal dies of illness or injury or is discarded because she is worthless to the industry.

Gestation crates deprive these smart and social animals–with intelligence comparable to a three-year-old human child–of their most basic natural behaviors and desires. They cause mental breakdown, with pigs chewing at the bars of their cages in frustration. Investigations show bloody open wounds and untreated prolapses, which cause long and painful deaths.

How does the pork industry treat its animals?

Gestation crates are not the only commonplace, extremely cruel, practice of the pork industry. Investigations have shown piglets are castrated and have their tails cut off with no pain relief, often having their testicles ripped out, causing ruptures, which workers stuff back into the pigs with their fingers, amid the screams of the piglets and in full view of their mothers. This is widespread across the industry despite the existence of non-invasive alternatives.

The practice of forced cannibalism, or feeding the intestines of dead piglets back to live pigs is another common practice.

Nursing pigs are also confined in crates called farrowing crates, which are nearly identical to gestation crates but have a small opening in the side for the piglets to nurse from their mothers through the metal bars. This adds to the animal’s suffering by depriving the mother of interaction with her piglets, and piglets have been known to be crushed to death in these systems.

Investigations have shown time and again the cruelty of animal treatment in these facilities, with piglets killed by slamming their skulls on concrete, animals beaten, dragged, kicked, and otherwise brutalized.

Pig slaughter is also notoriously cruel, compounded by often long and stress- (and death-) filled truck transport. The federal government and the industry are working to speed up and deregulate pig slaughter nationwide, which would lead to faster slaughter and over 11 more million pigs killed each year.

Cruelty is not the exception in the pork industry - it’s the way the system operates.

Why is this case important?

The Supreme Court rarely hears issues that could ultimately have an impact on how animals are treated in huge corporate systems, and although Prop 12 only addresses gestation crates and not the other standard cruel practices, it is the strongest animal protection law taking a stand against a standard cruel practice in the industry. The Supreme Court case was the highest profile instance to date of the animal agriculture industry’s tireless efforts to obstruct these efforts–so as to continue the immense suffering that comes with intensive confinement. The Supreme Court’s decision impacts not just the animals, but all of our rights as voters to refuse to be complicit in some of the worst cruelty in the industry.

What was Animal Outlook’s role in the case?

Animal Outlook was among a group of animal advocacy organizations that intervened in the case to support California’s effort to protect the will of California voters’ and farmed animals in the state. Read filings in the case here.

What can you do?

The only way to avoid supporting cruelty against farmed animals is to leave them off your plate. Visit for information, recipes, and tips for making the transition to a vegan diet.

Over 97% of Americans believe that farmed animals should have welfare protections. Tell Congress to act – sign our petition demanding federal legislation extending Prop 12’s animal welfare protections nationwide.

What happened in the legal case?

NPPC argued that Prop 12 violated the Commerce Clause. But these producers are choosing to sell in California–and, having made that choice, they must comply with California laws.

When was it heard?

October 11, 2022.

What was the ruling?

On May 11, 2023, the Supreme Court affirmed the 9th Circuit’s dismissal of the case, thereby ending the case with Proposition 12 intact. Follow Animal Outlook on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for the latest updates.

More News: 

Press Release: Supreme Court Rejects Meat Industry Challenge to Animal Cruelty Law

The US Supreme Court ruling affirms the dismissal of the lawsuit over California’s Proposition 12 law. -
US Supreme Court sides with farm animals and rejects challenge to California law - AlterNet
High court upholds law giving swine more room on farms. What does it mean for Modesto area? - Yahoo
In Win for Farm Animals, US Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to California Law - Common Dreams
Animal Law Updates that Improved the World for Animals this Month - One Green Planet
A Supreme Court Battle Over Pigs! - Unchained TV
Animal agriculture’s challenge to California’s Proposition 12 will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in October - Unchained TV
A Supreme Court Battle Over Pigs! - Unchained TV
Pork Industry Looks to Overturn CA’s Proposition 12. Will the Supreme Court Let Cruelty Be Status Quo? - Vegnews
Voters' Victory Banning Extreme Confinement Under Threat, as Pork Industry Challenges California's Proposition 12 - Yahoo