Animal Wellness Defends Authority of the United States to Ban Cockfighting

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AWA and AWF are supporting the United States by seeking to participate as friends of the court in two pivotal federal court cases relating to animal fighting.

AWA and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) are supporting the United States by seeking to participate as friends of the court in two pivotal federal court cases relating to animal fighting. In Puerto Rico, and separately on Guam, cockfighters have filed legal actions to nullify the most recently enacted provisions the anti-fighting section of the Animal Welfare Act. We are working to protect the law, as well as to promote its active enforcement.

“The actions of Congress to prohibit animal fighting in the states has been upheld as an appropriate exercise of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause,” wrote Shawn Anderson, the United States Attorney for Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands, in the United States’ motion urging the judge to reject the cockfighter’s challenge of the law.  

Mr. Anderson went on to argue that the legislative action to upgrade the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting “is a valid congressional amendment to extend the animal fighting prohibition to the territories, including Guam, and thus close a gap in the law.”

“Cultural rights merit consideration,” wrote AWA and AWF in their amicus curiae brief supporting the United States, “but Congress has weighed the import of cultural attachment to cockfighting against its detrimental effects on interstate commerce and concluded that no justification exists to continue permitting the abhorrent practice in the United States.”

Last October, U.S. District Court Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi of the U.S. District Court in San Juan rejected claims by cockfighters in Puerto Rico challenging the same amendment to the Animal Welfare Act, declaring that “[n]either the Commonwealth’s political statues, nor the Territorial Clause, impede the United States Government from enacting laws that apply to all citizens of this Nation alike, whether as a state or territory.” On December 20th of the same year, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied an emergency stay sought by the cockfighting clubs. Briefing on the appeal on the merits of the case will be completed in the next few months, and AWA will participate.

“The Federal Courts and the U.S. Department of Justice have been crystal clear on the matter: the Congress has the authority to ban animal fighting everywhere in the United States, and it has chosen to do so,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of AWA.  “We also know this is the popular view of the people of Guam, who overwhelmingly favor the federal ban on animal fighting.” A survey by a leading Guam-based polling firm, released last December, revealed that only two out of ten (21%) Guamanians favor cockfighting while over 60% oppose it.

AWA and AWF also conducted a review of shipping records and determined there were more than 500 illegal shipments of fighting birds to Guam from the states during the last three years.

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