Washington, D.C. — This week, the United States, Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) submitted their respective arguments to the U.S. District Court in Guam and urged the federal judge presiding in the case to reject the arguments that the law extending animal fighting to the territories is unconstitutional as argued in the complaint from a Guam-based cockfighting enthusiast.
“The actions of Congress to prohibit animal fighting in the states has been upheld as an appropriate exercise of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause,” wrote Shawn Anderson, the United States Attorney for Guam and NMI, in the United States’ motion urging the judge to reject the cockfighter’s challenge of the law. Mr. Anderson went on to argue that the legislative action to upgrade the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting “is a valid congressional amendment to extend the animal fighting prohibition to the territories, including Guam, and thus close a gap in the law.”
“Cultural rights merit consideration,” wrote Animal Wellness Action and other groups in their amicus curiae brief supporting the United States, “but Congress has weighed the import of cultural attachment to cockfighting against its detrimental effects on interstate commerce and concluded that no justification exists to continue permitting the abhorrent practice in the United States.”
This is the second challenge to the most recent upgrade of the federal animal fighting law, which took effect three months ago and applied all prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting to the U.S. territories. Last October, U.S. District Court Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi of the U.S. District Court in San Juan rejected claims by cockfighters in Puerto Rico challenging the same amendment to the Animal Welfare Act, declaring that “[n]either 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.” On December 20th of the same year, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied an emergency stay sought by the cockfighting clubs. Briefing on the appeal on the merits of the case will be completed in the next few months.
A U.S. Magistrate has already opined on the Guam case and agreed with the United States. Several months ago, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan, Jr. echoed Judge Gelpí’s analysis in his October ruling, stating, “[t]he court finds Judge Gelpí’s decision in Club Gallístico to be thorough and well-reasoned.”
“The Federal Courts and the U.S. Department of Justice have been crystal clear on the matter: the Congress has the authority to ban animal fighting everywhere in the United States, and it has chosen to do so,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “We also know this is the popular view of the people of Guam, who overwhelmingly favor the federal ban on animal fighting.” A survey by a leading Guam-based polling firm, released last December, revealed that only two out of ten (21%) Guamanians favor cockfighting while over 60% oppose it.
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 television 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.
The AWA and AWF announced a rewards program to run for an indefinite time that provides a $2,500 reward for any individual who provides critical information that results in a successful federal prosecution of an individual or set of individuals who violate the federal law against animal fighting. AWA and AWF also conducted a review of shipping records and determined there were more than 500 illegal shipments of fighting birds to Guam from the states during the last three years.
Animal Wellness Action is represented by local attorney Vanessa L. Williams of the Vanessa L. Williams Law Office, as well as Greenfire Law, PC, a public interest law firm based in Berkeley, California.