Federal Court: Cockfighting Not a Right in US Territories

Appeals court upholds Guam ban
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2021 11:19 AM CST
Federal Court: Cockfighting Not a Right in US Territories
In this Sept. 22, 2019, photo provided by Animal Wellness Action, people gather to watch cockfighting in Dededo, Guam.   (Wayne Pacelle/Animal Wellness Action via AP)

In one of his lesser-known moves, then-President Trump signed a law in 2018 banning cockfighting in all US territories, 11 years after Louisiana became the final state to ban the practice. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court ruled against Guam businessman Sedfrey Linsangan, who argued the ban was unconstitutional because "gamefowl competition" was part of his culture, AP reports. The court said cockfighting isn't a fundamental right for people in Guam or any other US jurisdiction. "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’s tradition," the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals panel said.

"Various US jurisdictions have restricted or prohibited animal fighting, including cockfighting, for centuries," the panel said. A similar challenge to the law from cockfighting interests in Puerto Rico was rejected by the Supreme Court in October. The ruling comes days before New Year's Day cockfight derbies in Guam, but a spokeswoman for Gov. Leon Guerrero says it will be up to federal authorities to enforce the ban, the Guam Daily Post reports. Recent changes to the island's animal cruelty laws recognized cockfighting as a cultural practice.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Animal Wellness Action group, wrote to the governor Wednesday, asking her to tell cockfight organizers that "law enforcement personnel will be present to maintain the peace and discourage any illegal acts of animal cruelty." "As a legal jurisdiction of the United States, Guam cannot whimsically opt-out of US laws that forbid animal cruelty," Pacelle wrote, per the Pacific News Center. He added: "Congress has determined that cockfighting is barbaric and inhumane and the federal courts have said the US has the authority to take this action. Case closed." (Last year, police in California seized thousands of cockfighting roosters.)

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