By MICHAEL DOYLE. McClatchy Newspapers
Supreme Court justices carved into California's ban on the commercial slaughter of lame livestock Wednesday, leaving the state law's future in doubt.
In a case that pits state vs. federal power, justices repeatedly suggested that California went too far with protecting animals already regulated by federal law and overseen by the U.S. Agriculture Department.
"California should butt out," Justice Antonin Scalia said at one point.
Although more bluntly phrased than most, Scalia's seeming skepticism toward California's livestock-protection law appeared to be widely shared during the hourlong oral argument. No justice seemed sympathetic to the state's case, and some at times sounded downright impatient.
"I don't see how you can argue that you're not trenching on the scope of the (federal) statute," Justice Sonia Sotomayor told California's deputy attorney general, Susan K. Smith.
Sounding dubious, Sotomayor later suggested that Smith was "not seriously arguing" a particular point, while Scalia said of one of Smith's arguments, "That can't be right."
The California law in question prohibits the slaughter of non-ambulatory pigs, sheep, goats or cattle. These are animals that can't walk, because of disease, injury or other causes. The state law further requires that the downed animals be euthanized.
Federal law bans the slaughter of downed cattle, and the challenge heard Wednesday was to the state provision that covers swine.
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