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June 25, 2009

The HSUS Asks Federal Appeals Court to Uphold Federal Animal Fighting Ban

Frivolous Lawsuit Alleges a Constitutional Right to Fight Chickens

The Humane Society of the United States

CINCINNATI — The Humane Society of the United States, represented by Arnold & Porter LLP and former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, filed a friend-of-the-court brief today in federal appeals court, seeking to protect the nation's recently strengthened federal animal fighting law from a trivial constitutional challenge mounted by individuals aligned with the United Gamefowl Breeders Association — a national front group for criminal cockfighting rings.

The lawsuit claims that the federal animal fighting law infringes on plaintiffs' alleged constitutional rights to travel and associate for the purpose of fighting animals. The Complaint seeks an injunction against several senior federal officials, as well as a declaration of plaintiffs' constitutional "right to travel...[with] chickens intended for fighting."

In January, the lower court dismissed the entire case. The HSUS is asking the appeals court to affirm the lower court's ruling, and find that the plaintiffs lack standing and also have not asserted any infringement of constitutionally protected interests. 

"Neither the First Amendment nor any other constitutional provision includes the right to engage in felony animal cruelty," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president & chief counsel for animal protection litigation and research for The HSUS. "Congress has rightfully cracked down on interstate and foreign commerce in fighting animals and weapons, especially in light of the violence, drug trafficking, and other serious social ills that animal fighting brings to our communities."

In 2007, Congress upgraded the federal penalties for illegal animal fighting from misdemeanor to felony status. Congress again strengthened the animal fighting laws in 2008, making it a federal felony not only to buy, sell, or transport animals across state lines for fighting, but also to knowingly possess or train any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in a fight that involves interstate commerce, regardless of whether the animal was taken across state lines.

The HSUS notes that cockfighters may have filed the suit in Ohio because the state has the third weakest anti-cockfighting law of any state in the nation. Ohio is a magnet for criminal cockfighters because they flee other states that have strong felony penalties for cockfighting activities, and in Ohio the penalty is equivalent to a speeding ticket. The HSUS is working to upgrade Ohio's anti-cockfighting statute and bring the penalties in line with 39 other states that have strong felony penalties.

Copies of The HSUS' filing today, as well as the lawsuit itself, are available upon request.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org. 

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