Court strikes down challenge to federal cockfighting ban



The federal court has upheld the constitutionality of a federal ban on cockfighting, denying a petition for summary judgment filed by a Guam resident who challenged the Animal Welfare Act.


The law, which went into effect in 2018,  made illegal the practice of pitting animals against one another in a fight, often to the death, in all U.S. states and territories.


Guam resident Sedfrey Linsangan sued the U.S government seeking to overturn the cockfighting ban, saying it was inconsistent with the Organic Act.


In a decision issued Wednesday, Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood cited a similar case in Puerto Rico., in which the court ruled,   “Congress has the undeniable authority to treat the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico 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.” 













The prohibition was included in the 2018 farm bill, which went into in December 2019.


A cultural tradition dating back to precolonial times, cockfighting is a sport of fighting roosters, often involving careful breeding of birds. It’s an activity that is passed down through generations.


An amicus brief was filed by Animal Wellness Action (AWA), the Center for a Humane Economy (CHE) and Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF), rejected all plaintiff’s arguments.


“Animal fighting is an inhumane and barbaric practice, and it deserves no refuge in any part of the United States,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “This court reminds every cockfighter of the constitutional authority of the United States to forbid staged fights has been soundly and repeatedly affirmed by the federal courts.”  The federal law provides up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine for any violation of the law.


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.


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.”


 AWA and AWF expanded their campaign against cockfighting to Hawaii, noting that cockfighters in the state had more people illegally transporting cockfighting birds to Guam than any other state.


The organizations, which have conducted a campaign to end cockfighting on Guam, asked U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price, representing the District of Hawaii, to investigate allegations that a substantial number of residents in the state are knee-deep in the business of illegal trafficking of fighting animals and perhaps making millions of dollars from the trade.



A press conference was held to reveal the results of the investigation. 


“There has been a major pathway between Hawaii and Guam featuring the illegal transport of fighting birds,” Pacelle said in an earlier relaese “Hawaii is acting as a hub-and-spoke model for animal fighting activities in Asia, in the Pacific islands, and in the United States.”


AWF and AWA said they obtained nearly 2,500 pages of avian shipping records dated November 2017 to September 2019. These records detail approximately 750 shipments of birds by 71 individuals from more than a dozen states to Guam, where more than 130 individuals purchased the birds for fights in the U.S. territory. These shipping records revealed that Hawaii had more shippers of fighting birds to Guam than any other state and sold, after Oklahoma and California, the third largest volume of birds to this long-time hotbed of cockfighting.






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