Pamela Vesilind


The 2011-12 Supreme Court term was notable for high profile cases about state undocumented immigrant law, GPS-enabled police searches,chronic liars claiming military honors, and the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act. As such, it is unsurprising that the decision in National Meat Ass’n v. Harris,notable for its unanimity and matter-of-fact concision, received relatively little attention from the media or the academy. Nevertheless, National Meat is a bellwether federalism opinion, the significance of which has been widely overlooked. At first blush, the legal question in National Meat appeared to be relatively unremarkable: whether the USDA’s slaughterhouse and packing plant regulations under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA, or “Meat Inspection Act”) preempted new California standards for handling disabled livestock—standards higher than those required by the USDA. A logical extrapolation of the Court’s reasoning for striking down California’s regulations suggests an alarmingly remarkable and novel premise: that the federal government has absolute supremacy in regulating welfare standards for animals in agriculture. This unfortunate consequence might have been avoided, had National Meat not asked the wrong question.

First Page