13 States Take Their Egg Case to the Supreme Court

by | December 6, 2017

By Matthew Patane

Iowa and 12 other states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a California law that restricts eggs sold in that state to come from hens that have room to extend their limbs.

Missouri's Attorney General filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of the 13 states in what is the latest challenge to the California regulations. The states challenging the law argue it directly has increased the cost of eggs, hurt consumers and state agencies who buy eggs for daily consumption, and violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"By its extraterritorial regulation of egg producers, California has single-handedly increased the costs of egg production nationwide by hundreds of millions of dollars each year," the lawsuit reads.

The issue stems from when voters in California approved an initiative in 2008 that required the state's egg producers give each egg-laying hen at least 116 square inches of space. After an outcry from California producers that they would be put at a competitive disadvantage, California lawmakers passed a law that would require all producers selling eggs in the state to provide the same floor space.

Judges have shot down challenges to the California law twice before. In 2014, a District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Missouri, Iowa and four other states against the California regulations.

A federal appeals court upheld that dismissal in 2016 and said the suing states did not prove the California law would hurt more than a few egg producers, the Associated Press reported.

The California initiative went into effect in 2015.

"These regulations are unconstitutional and a clear attempt by big-government proponents to impose job-killing regulations on Missouri," Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said in a news release.

Neither the Iowa Attorney General's Office nor the Iowa governor's office had a comment on the lawsuit late Monday.

The California Attorney General's Office said Tuesday it was reviewing the lawsuit but did not provide further comment.

Missouri and Iowa were joined in the lawsuit by Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Iowa produced more than 13.6 billion eggs in 2016, making it the largest egg producing state in the country. In 2012, when Iowa produced 14.5 billion eggs, more than 9 percent went to California, according to the lawsuit.

Combined, the 13 states who brought the lawsuit produced more than 43.5 billion eggs a year, or about 43 percent of all the eggs produced in the United States.

California produced about 3.5 billion eggs in 2016, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

In their filing with the Supreme Court, Missouri and the other states argue the California law has increased the cost of eggs between 1.7 and 5.12 percent nationwide. That in turn affects their citizens and state agencies who purchase eggs for daily consumption, the suit reads.

The states that brought the suit all have Republican attorneys general, except for Iowa, where Attorney General Tom Miller is a Democrat.

(c)2017 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)