The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal made by the political leaders of Puerto Rico who are seeking relief from a federal law that bans cockfighting in every part of the United States and its territories. The petitioners stated that the prohibition exceeded the federal government’s authority.
In 2018, Congress changed a federal law that permitted cockfighting in Puerto Rico. The amended 2018 bill eliminated the provision and placed a broader law that bans organized animal combat for “the purposes of sport, wagering or entertainment.” At the time of the revision, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had already banned cockfighting, however, Puerto Rico and three more territories allowed the sport. The federal ban took effect in December 2019.
Animal welfare activists celebrated the ban. But in Puerto Rico, the move was met with protests. Led by Angel Manual Ortiz-Diaz, an owner of two cockfighting venues, Puerto Ricans involved in cockfighting challenged the law, stating that “Cockfighting is deeply ingrained in the island’s history, tradition, and culture. Our federal system reserves for Puerto Ricans the right to govern themselves on these inherently local issues.”
The Puerto Rican government supported the petition and filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to intervene. Puerto Rico estimates that cockfighting supports more than 11,000 jobs and brings about USD 65 million annually into the territory’s economy.
The Biden administration told the court to reject the appeal, arguing that the law “regulates economic activity that substantially affects interstate commerce.” The administration also said that the ban is also authorized under a separate constitutional clause that gives Congress power to manage U.S. territories. Two lower courts have also sided with the federal government and said Congress acted appropriately.