U.S. Appeals Court Turns Back Challenge by Guam-based Cockfighter, Affirms U.S. Authority to Ban Cockfighting in the U.S. Territories.
Appeals exhausted, cockfighters are legally obligated to cease staged animal fights, including Guam derbies advertised for New Year's Day
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a ruling of the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam that Congress has the authority to bar animal fighting throughout the United States, including in the territories. The case was brought by Guam-based cockfighting enthusiast Sedfrey Linsangan.
"The challenges originating in Guam and Puerto Rico to the federal law banning all animal fighting have been turned back by four federal courts and also denied by the U.S. Supreme Court," noted Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, which filed pleadings in these cases as an amicus curiae participant. "This ruling comes just days before illegal cockfighting derbies are set to commence in Guam at The Dome in Dededo, and this latest court ruling is one more emphatic signal to the cockfighters to stop their criminal conspiracies."
In October 2021, U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari from cockfighters and political leaders in Puerto Rico seeking relief from the same federal law that bans cockfighting there. That pleading came to the Supreme Court after two U.S. courts rejected the claims of cockfighting interests and their local political allies in Puerto Rico.
"Linsangan's evidence of cockfighting as a cultural practice both predating and outside of American history does not show that cockfighting is objectively deeply rooted in our Nation," wrote the U.S. Court of Appeals in rejecting the plaintiff's claims. "Various U.S. jurisdictions have restricted or prohibited animal fighting, including cockfighting, for centuries." The Court rejected all other claims from Mr. Linsangan, including his First Amendment arguments.
In December 2018, Congress passed, and the President signed, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018; that legislative package included a provision applying all federal prohibitions against animal fighting to the U.S. territories. The Congress gave the territories a year to comply, with the prohibition taking effect on December 20, 2019. That latest amendment to the federal animal fighting law made it a felony to operate a cockfighting venue or to participate in animal fights. Other provisions of the federal anti-animal fighting law – such as prohibitions on transporting or receiving fighting birds, trading in fighting implements, or being a spectator at an animal fighting event — had already applied to the territories for years.
Mr. Linsangan appealed the decision of U.S. District Court Judge on Guam in October 2020. "Congress has the undeniable authority to treat [the territories of the United States] uniformly to the States and eliminate live-bird fighting ventures across every United States jurisdiction," wrote Chief District Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood in the October 2020 ruling. "The source of this authority rests primarily in the Commerce Clause and Supremacy Clause and alternatively in the Territorial Clause."
"As a legal jurisdiction of the United States, Guam cannot whimsically opt-out of U.S. laws that forbid animal cruelty," added Pacelle. "The Congress has determined that cockfighting is barbaric and inhumane and the federal courts have said the U.S. has the authority to take this action. Case closed."
Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, and the Center for a Humane Economy have participated as a friend of the court (amicus curiae) on the side of the United States in all challenges to the 2018 U.S. law banning cockfighting.
For more information on the issue, including a legislative history, go to www.EndCockfighting.org, a microsite created by Animal Wellness Action.
Please email Wayne Pacelle for a copy of the decision.