Federal Court On Guam Strikes Down Challenge To Federal Cockfighting Ban


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In October, the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam turned aside a legal challenge to a 2018 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 that made illegal the practice of pitting animals against one another in a fight, often to the death, in all U.S. states and territories.

Ruling Upholds The Authority Of The United States To Outlaw Animal Fighting In U.S. Territories

By Wayne Pacelle

In October, the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam turned aside a legal challenge to a 2018 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 that made illegal the practice of pitting animals against one another in a fight, often to the death, in all U.S. states and territories. The case was brought by a resident of Guam who sought to overturn the ban so that cockfighting operations could continue in the territory without interference. The Court, after considering all filings in the case including an amicus brief filed by Animal Wellness Action (AWA), the Center for a Humane Economy (CHE) and Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF), rejected all plaintiff’s arguments.

AWA and AWF drove passage of the 2018 national ban on animal fighting and then immediately launched a campaign on Guam to stop animal fighting there. Since the campaign started, the territory’s major fighting arena has been closed for business, and the Governor did not grant approval for cockfighting activities at 17 village festivals. A poll authorized by AWA and AWF and conducted by a respected Guam-based polling firm revealed that more than 60 percent of Guamanians support the federal law to ban cockfighting, while only 21 percent opposed it, with the remainder undecided.

Relying on the District of Puerto Rico’s October 2019 decision upholding the Animal Welfare Act’s prohibition on animal fighting in the territories, the District of Guam’s opinion held, “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. The source of this authority rests primarily in the Commerce Clause and Supremacy Clause and alternatively in the Territorial Clause.”

Similarly, the court agreed with the District of Puerto Rico’s finding that “[a] live-bird fighting venture does not fall within any expressive or non-expressive protected conduct” under the First Amendment and is therefore not protected speech.

In dismissing the plaintiff’s due process claims, the court determined the plaintiff did not have a “fundamental right” to fight bids, so Congress had authority and was justified in closing the cockfighting “loophole” because of its legitimate interest in “preventing the spread of avian disease and the accompanying economic consequences if such disease were spread.”

The plaintiff has filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, while the case brought before the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico has now come before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.  AWA, AWF, and CHE are being represented by Jessica Blome of Greenfire Law in all proceedings. 

Wayne Pacelle is president of Animal Wellness Action and president of the Center for a Humane Economy.



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