U.S. Attorney Appeals Court to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Ban on Cockfighting

Johnny H. Walker, III, U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney, has appealed to the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the independent senatorial candidate Andrew Salas regarding the federal ban on cockfighting. Salas, a resident of Saipan and who served in the House of Representatives in the commonwealth’s Legislatures, filed the case in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands last June.

Walker stated, “(The) Plaintiff’s legal theories about the power of Congress to prohibit cockfighting in the NMI are meritless. The Animal Welfare Act and its amendments apply in the NMI pursuant to Section 502(a)(2) of the Covenant, which specifies that all laws of general applicability in existence as of January 9, 1978, and subsequent amendments to those laws, apply with equal force to the Northern Mariana Islands.”

He added, “But though the prohibition on cockfighting may have operated differently in different jurisdictions, it was still the law in each and every state and territory.” Walker further expanded, “And whatever may be said about the Animal Welfare Act’s prior exception for cockfighting, there can be no doubt that the broader ban on other forms of animal fighting applied to and operated uniformly in all states and territories. Congress’s amendment extending that ban to cockfighting in all jurisdictions, therefore, applies to the NMI.”

Through attorney Joseph Horey, Salas asked the federal court to issue a judgment declaring that Section 12616 of the Agriculture Improvement Act or AIA and 7 U.S.C. § 2156 are not applicable to or effective in the Northern Marianas.

The lawsuit filed by Salas also asked the court to issue an injunction to prohibit the U.S. government and its agents from enforcing Section 12616 of the AIA, or 7 U.S.C. § 2156, or any other provisions of statutory or regulatory law that depend on its validity, in the Northern Marianas.

According to Salas, the Covenant establishing a political union between the United States and the Northern Mariana Islands effectively exempts the CNMI from federal prohibitions on cockfighting. However, Walker countered that the federal government has imposed prohibitions on animal fighting in the states and territories since 1976.

Walker said, “Initially, these prohibitions exempted fights involving live birds (i.e., cockfights) in areas where such fights were legal under state or territorial law. Between 1976 and 2014, Congress progressively limited this exemption through various legislative actions before closing it altogether in 2018.”

He continued, “Plaintiff argues that the 2018 amendment did not apply to the several states because all 50 of the states had already outlawed cockfighting themselves. But that argument ignores the actual action taken by Congress, which was to fully remove the exception permitting certain aspects of cockfighting ventures depending on the law of the local jurisdiction. Should any state choose to legalize cockfighting now, it would remain illegal under federal law, demonstrating that the 2018 amendment unquestionably applies to the 50 states and territories.”

Salas argued that banning cockfighting intrudes upon a purely local concern in the NMI, but Walker responded that “By definition … the cockfighting banned by federal law is not purely internal to the NMI; the statute targets only animal fighting that is ‘in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce. And even if there were an intrusion on the internal affairs of the Northern Mariana Islands, it is justified by federal interests in regulating an activity that impacts interstate commerce and that has been connected to the interstate and foreign spread of disease.”

Walker closed that the “Plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a claim that is supported by law and should be dismissed with prejudice.”