Federal court on Guam strikes down challenge to cockfighting ban

The federal ban on cockfighting took effect late in 2019 but the ban on transporting cockfighting birds across state and territorial lines has been in effect since 2007.

The United States District Court for the District of Guam on Thursday, turned aside a legal challenge to a 2018 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 that made illegal the practice of pitting animals against one another in a fight, often to the death, in all U.S. states and territories. The case was brought by a resident of Guam who sought to overturn the ban so that cockfighting operations could continue in the territory without interference. The Court, after considering all filings in the case including an amicus brief 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.

Relying on the District of Puerto Rico’s October 2019 decision upholding the Animal Welfare Act’s prohibition on animal fighting in the territories, the District of Guam’s opinion held, “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. The source of this authority rests primarily in the Commerce Clause and Supremacy Clause and alternatively in the Territorial Clause.”

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, AWF, and CHE were represented by Jessica Blome of Greenfire Law in this case.

(News release from Animal Wellness Foundation and Animal Wellness Action)