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The HSUS Commends U.S. Supreme Court for Denying Cockfighters’ Petition to Review Constitutionality of Animal Fighting Law

The Humane Society of the United States lauded the U.S. Supreme Court for refusing to hear a challenge by cockfighters to critically important animal fighting provisions of the federal Animal Welfare Act.  

In a major cockfighting case that originated in South Carolina, nearly a dozen defendants challenged their convictions arguing that the federal animal fighting law violates various federal constitutional provisions, including the Commerce Clause.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their arguments and upheld their convictions in April. The defendants petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case, and the Court summarily denied their petition.

The HSUS filed an amicus brief in defense of the law in the Fourth Circuit, and the Department of Justice presented a strong defense of the measure. 

In a unanimous Appeals Court opinion, judges 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 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals 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 noted “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 staff attorneys 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: Nicole Ianni, 301-548-7793, nianni@humanesociety.org

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