Court dismisses plea for CNMI's exclusion from national cockfight ban
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
A federal court has dismissed a CNMI resident's lawsuit that sought to exclude the Northern Mariana Islands from the federal ban on cockfighting.
Describing himself as "lifelong cockfighter," Andrew Salas argued that an anti-cockfighting provision of the Agriculture Improvement Act – enacted into law in December 2018 and which took full effect one year later – overreached in applying the prohibition to the Northern Marianas Islands.
The United States opposed his legal argument, filing extensive pleadings in the case.
In dismissing the case, Chief U.S. District Judge Ramona Manglona determined that “the federal interests in regulating interstate commerce, preventing the spread of avian flu, and ensuring the humane treatment of animals outweigh the degree of intrusion into the internal affairs of the CNMI as it relates to the tradition of cockfighting.”
Salas’s attorneys vowed to appeal thr dismissal. That appeal would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In December 2021, that court 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 U.S. territories.
That case was brought by Guam-based cockfighting enthusiast Sedfrey Linsangan. Mr. Linsangan appealed a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam that his claims were legally invalid, and that U.S. law bans cockfighting on Guam.
Two months prior, 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 a U.S. District Court in San Juan and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the claims of cockfighting interests and their local political allies in Puerto Rico.
“Two prior challenges to the 2018 federal law against staged animal fighting were met with unanimous disapproval by five federal courts, and a sixth court has added its voice,” said Wayne Pacelle of Animal Wellness Action, which has filed pleadings in the prior cases and was prepared to file an amicus brief in this case if it went to trial.
“The Congress has determined that cockfighting is bound up with interstate commerce and that the United States has authority to outlaw staged animal combat everywhere in the United States because of our national interest in protecting animals and stemming the spread of zoonotic disease," Pacelle said.
The 2018 federal law built on an already strong federal statute to combat animal fighting by making 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. Salas is free to appeal, but he and other CNMI cockfighters should heed the law and stop hacking up animals for illegal gambling and the thrill of watching the bloodletting,” added Pacelle. “The activity he refers to as a hobby and a tradition is a federal felony.”