In a recent court filing, the USDA contends that states can't sue the federal government.
The Department of Agriculture is going to the mat to defend its right to feed schoolchildren less healthy food.
Scientists sued to try to stop them. States sued to try to stop them. As to the latter, however, the administration has offered an intriguing theory in a brief filed Monday night: that states can't sue the federal government to protect children.
This argument might seem surprising, given this administration's enthusiasm for letting states sue it in other contexts, such as obliterating healthcare. But when it comes states wanting to feed schoolchildren more whole grains and less sodium, the administration wants to be crystal clear that is a bridge too far.
In late 2018, the USDA rolled back the Obama-era standards that had required healthier school lunches. There was no real reason for it save for that some school districts — and lots of conservatives — just didn't like them. They did so although the rules really weren't anything radical and were based on the overall Dietary Guide for Americans, issued by the United States Department of Health.
The lawsuit by the states seeks to reinstate the guidelines that were in effect under Obama, as they're demonstrably healthier. But the administration is arguing that the states don't have a right to sue on behalf of the children in their state because "a state has no legal interest in protecting its citizens from the federal government."
In other words, states have no right to push back against the encroachment of federal rules — a stance which is completely at odds with the position Republicans purport to favor.
As wrongheaded as the government's stance on the law might seem here, it's stance on what constitutes a healthy lunch is even worse. In their filing to the court, the government argued that the states "offered no proof that children at 4,100 schools exempted from earlier whole-grain rules suffered adverse health consequences."
That puts the government at odds with its own dietary guidelines, which specifically link consumption of whole grains with a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers, and obesity.
This administration likes states' rights when it leads to conservative goals like the destruction of Obamacare but hates them when states want to help children. Consistency really isn't their strong suit.
Published with permission of The American Independent.