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The Humane Society of the United States Commends Court of Appeals Decision Upholding Federal Animal Fighting Ban

The Humane Society of the United States hails a decision today by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upholding critically important animal fighting provisions of the federal Animal Welfare Act.  In two related appeals, nearly a dozen defendants challenged their convictions arguing that the federal animal fighting law violates various constitutional provisions, including the Commerce Clause.  The HSUS filed briefing in defense of the law, and the Department of Justice presented a strong defense of the measure. 

In a unanimous opinion, the Court rejected each of the cockfighting defendants’ challenges, noting that the Court had “no difficulty concluding that Congress acted within the limitations established by the Commerce Clause in enacting the animal fighting statute.”

"Congress has rightfully decided to crack down on the cruelty, violence, drug trafficking and other serious social ills that animal fighting brings to our communities," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president for animal protection litigation and investigations for The HSUS. "We commend the Department of Justice for its work in this case, and for sending a strong message that the perpetrators of these cruel bloodsports will be found and prosecuted, wherever they may try and hide."

The Court found that “the animal fighting statute has been amended and expanded since its passage in 1976 to reflect the increasing national consensus against this activity,” and was designed to address serious, national concerns, including the fact that cockfighting events “often involve gambling and other questionable and criminal activities,” and “the connection between animal fighting and the spread of costly and dangerous diseases such as the bird flu."  After reviewing the extensive legislative record of Congress’ decades-long effort to crack down on organized dogfighting and cockfighting operations, the Court found no basis for disturbing Congress’ actions.

The HSUS was represented in this matter by attorneys with The HSUS’s animal protection litigation section, and the law firm of Hunton & Williams.


  • Cockfighting is illegal in every state, and all animal fighting that affects interstate commerce is punishable as a federal felony under the Animal Welfare Act.
  • Common cockfighting practices include breeding birds for viciousness, drugging them to heighten aggression, and fitting their legs with deadly weapons—that is, razor-sharp knives or gaffs, which resemble curved ice picks.
  • Congress is considering legislation—the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, H.R. 2492 and S. 1947—to further strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to be a spectator at a dogfight or cockfight, with additional penalties for bringing a child to the fight.

Media Contact: Katie Jarl – 713-516-7892 – kjarl@humanesociety.org

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