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Federal Appeals Court Rejects Constitutional Challenge to Federal Animal Fighting Ban

CINCINNATI — The Humane Society of the United States is hailing a decision issued Friday by a federal appeals court rejecting a constitutional challenge to the federal animal fighting ban.  The suit was brought by individuals aligned with the United Gamefowl Breeders Association — a national front group for criminal cockfighting rings — and claimed that the law infringes on plaintiffs' alleged constitutional rights to travel and associate for the purpose of fighting animals. The HSUS filed a "friend of the court" brief in the case.

"We commend the Court for dismissing this frivolous and misguided attack on the federal Animal Welfare Act," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president & chief counsel for animal protection litigation and research for The HSUS. "Neither the First Amendment nor any other constitutional provision includes the right to engage in animal cruelty."

The appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling finding that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring their challenge in light of the fact that all 50 states now ban cockfighting, and thus a ruling in their favor would not even help plaintiffs fulfill their desire to traffic in fighting animals and cockfighting paraphernalia. The Court also strongly suggested that the plaintiffs' constitutional arguments were misguided.

In another blow to cockfighters, a federal district court in New Mexico last week refused to grant class action status to a lawsuit filed by New Mexico cockfighters against local law enforcement officials and others that also alleges a civil right to strap knives on the heels of roosters to fight them to the death. 

Congress passed the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act in 2007, upgrading the federal penalties for illegal dogfighting and cockfighting from misdemeanor to felony status. Congress strengthened these laws again in July 2008, after the plaintiffs filed this case, as part of the Farm Bill. It is now a federal felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, not only to fight animals, but also to possess or train animals with the intent to fight them. U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., Roscoe Bartlett R-Md., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, and Sens. Maria Cantwell D-Wash., John Ensign R-Nev., and John Kerry, D-Mass., led the multi-year fight in Congress to enact this legislation.

The Humane Society of the United States is represented in the case pro bono by Arnold & Porter LLP, and former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro of Roetzel & Andress in Columbus, Ohio.

Copies of the decision, which was issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, 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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