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When Does Your State’s Rights Violate My State’s Rights?

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Conner Nicklas, Budd-Falen Law Offices

“A house divided cannot stand.” 

The Founding Fathers were wise. They understood there were circumstances where states could inflict economic warfare on each other. 

The Founding Fathers also understood this nation could not survive economic warfare among the states. They were also worried about large and wealthy states abusing smaller states and imposing their agenda on nonresidents. 

It was because of these concerns the Founding Fathers created the Dormant Commerce Clause.

The Dormant Commerce Clause essentially prohibits states from making laws which would economically discriminate against citizens of one state in order to benefit citizens of another. It has also been used to protect industries of one state from being abused by another state. 

The nation was an agricultural country at its founding, and it was important to the founders that commerce could be freely traded between states.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court appeared to have forgotten these principles, recently giving California the right to control agricultural practices for the rest of the country. 

In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 12, which was a law made in California prohibiting pork from being sold in the state that is not being raised following very strict and economically unrealistic standards. 

California’s requirements would cost pork producers nationally hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to conform to, which will in turn increase the cost of pork for everyone, whether they live in California or not. 

The case ultimately turned in California’s favor because the court ruled California has a right to regulate industries within its jurisdiction, and it is Congress’ role to regulate commerce and prevent abusive state laws.

While a state certainly has a right to regulate the industries within its borders, the problem is the effect of California’s law extends well beyond its borders. California hardly produces any pork, but the state holds a 13 percent share of the consumer pork market, making it “economically infeasible for many pig farmers and pork producers to exit the California market.” 

So, if a pig farmer in Iowa wants to continue existing, they will have to either completely change their practices or lose a large share of the market. 

According to the court, so long as a law does not specifically discriminate against a Californian compared to a Kansan, then the law does not violate the Constitution. 

Ultimately, California’s law undermines our state boundaries and the sovereignty of those states by forcing individuals and businesses in one state to conduct their farming, manufacturing and production practices in a manner required by the laws of California.

So, the court’s ruling begs an avalanche of questions – do we really want to open this Pandora’s Box? When does your state’s rights violate my state’s right? Should a state be allowed to create laws imposing its moral values on its neighboring states? Should a state be allowed to deny market access to out-of-state industries for controversial policies? Should New York be able to create a state law banning the sale of goods produced by workers paid less than $20 per hour? Should Texas be allowed to prohibit the sale of goods produced by companies paying for employees’ birth control or abortions? 

If the answer is that a state’s right to create its own laws trumps the right of an out-of-state worker to lawfully make a living in their own state, then perhaps we should do away with state borders because they will mean very little if we continue to go down this path.

Conner Nicklas is an attorney at Budd-Falen Law Offices, licensed in Wyoming, Colorado and Montana, who specializes in representing local governments and landowners regarding natural resource and property right issues.

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