Appeals court upholds cockfighting ban in US territories
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today affirmed a federal court's ruling that upheld the U.S. Congress's authority to prohibit cockfighting throughout the United States, including in the territories.
The case was brought by Guam-based cockfighting enthusiast Sedfrey Linsangan.
“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 ruling came amid the discovery of underground cockfighting on Guam. The Animal Wellness Action earlier released a secret schedule of the derbies to be held next month at The Dome, a facility in Dedeo that was shut down in December 2019 when the federal ban on cockfighting went into effect.
“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,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of AWA, which filed pleadings in these cases as an amicus curiae participant.
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.
The court rejected all other claims from 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.
Congress gave the territories a year to comply, with the prohibition taking effect on Dec. 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.
Linsangan appealed the decision of 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.”