Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court should deny a writ of certiorari, filed on June 11th, from a coalition of illegal cockfighting enthusiasts in Puerto Rico and allow a series of unanimous federal court rulings to stand that declare that no part of the United States should be a refuge for staged animal fights.
In December 2018, Congress passed and the President signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, and that legislative package included a provision to apply all prohibitions against animal fighting to every part of the United States, including the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and Guam. The animal fighting provision had a one-year delay in implementation, taking effect on December 20, 2019. In October 2019, a U.S. District Court in San Juan rejected the pleadings from the same group of cockfighters, and then in January 2021, a unanimous three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld that decision. A similar case from a Guam cockfighter was rejected by a U.S. District Court on Guam in October 2020.
In response to this latest legal maneuver, Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, issued the following statement:
“The Commonwealth of Puerto, as a legal jurisdiction of the United States, cannot whimsically opt-out of U.S. laws that forbid animal cruelty,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “The Congress and the federal courts have determined that cockfighting is not only barbaric and inhumane, but it is bound up with interstate commerce, grounding the authority of the federal government to forbid staged fights that leave animals with punctured lungs, gouged eyes, and other grievous injuries.”
“Tips from hundreds of Puerto Ricans to Animal Wellness Action reveal that cockfighters, abetted by politicians on the island, are breaking federal law and continuing to stage fights there, despite a series of emphatic court rulings that make plain their acts of animal cruelty constitute a felony offense. Why should the U.S. Supreme Court hear a case from individuals who are knowingly defying federal courts but now seek relief from them?”
“Neither 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,” wrote Judge Gustavo Gelpí in siding with the United States in an October 2019 ruling brought by Club Gallistico and other fight venue operators. And in January 2020, Federal Appeals Court Judge Sandra L. Lynch, on behalf of a panel for the First Circuit, wrote that the U.S. law against cockfighting “is a valid exercise of Congress’s Commerce Clause power and does not violate plaintiffs’ individual rights.
The federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting never singled out Puerto Rico, Guam, or any other U.S. territory. The federal law, step by step, applied prohibitions to cockfighting in the territories, and finally, in 2018, Congress finished the job in banning the practice on every acre of U.S. soil.
Animal Wellness Action notes that the presence of an above-ground cockfighting industry anywhere undermines prohibitions elsewhere. Territorial disregard for the federal anti-cockfighting law gives animal fighters an unwarranted patina of legitimacy, a market for fighting animals and paraphernalia, and venues for the conduct.
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 everywhere in the nation, including a similar challenge from a cockfighting enthusiast on Guam.
Under the federal anti-animal fighting law, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly use the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or other form of communications in, or use a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
- Knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.