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A man poses with his gamecock during a fight night at the Caimito cockfighting club the day the federal Farm Bill takes effect in San Juan, Puerto Rico on December 20, 2019. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images.
A man poses with his gamecock during a fight night at the Caimito cockfighting club the day the federal Farm Bill takes effect in San Juan, Puerto Rico on December 20, 2019. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images.

New petition questions Congress’ role in Puerto Rico cockfighting

Does Congress have a right to get involved in Puerto Rico’s cockfighting problem?

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A petition was recently filed in the U.S. Supreme Court questioning if Congress has the authority to get involved and rule on cockfighting in Puerto Rico. The petition asks whether Congress has power under the Commerce Clause to criminalize cockfighting on the island.

It asks U.S. Supreme Court Justices to review and reverse a past federal appeals court ruling that saw Congress utilize its power to constitutionally ban cockfighting in Puerto Rico. 

Cockfighting has been illegal under federal law since 1976, but only became prohibited on the island on December 20, 2019. Puerto Rican law still claims the activity is a “cultural right of all Puerto Ricans.”

Congress amended federal law in 2018 to eliminate a federal ban exception allowing cockfights to continue under local law as long as involved sponsors were unaware of the cockfight events. 

But some took issue with the action.

Rooster breeders and cockfight conductors challenged the amended law, and sued federal officials on the basis that the statute didn’t have the scope of congressional power needed to make such a decision. 

The plaintiffs’ petition argues for cockfighting, insisting the activity is beneficial to the island. Their citation includes claims that cockfighting “supports more than 11,000 jobs and has injected approximately $65 million annually into Puerto Rico’s economy.”

Plaintiffs argue that the regulation of animal sports should be left to an individual state, as is the case with rodeos, horse racing, livestock shows, and hunting.

The plaintiffs were unsuccessful in district court and again in appeals court, where it was explained that modern case law does allow Congress to regulate local economic activity with impacts on interstate or foreign commerce. 

They are now taking their argument to the Supreme Court. Results are expected to be the same as prior rulings.

Recently, the governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, filed a brief with the Supreme Court to appear in a case on cockfighting’s federal prohibtion. Pierluisi is pushing for the reversal of the federal ban, appearing as a “friend of the court” in an appeal filed by individuals within the island’s chicken business.

Pierluisi stated in a press release that he hopes to communicate to Congress that their power is limited by the interstate commerce clause, despite plenary power over the territory. Pierluisi hopes to frame cockfighting as purely a local industry.

“The cockfighting industry, which generates jobs and produces economic activity in Puerto Rico, is part of our culture and history,” said Pierluisi. “I will continue to assert the commitment, embodied in our government platform, to give the fight in all necessary forums in favor of the validity of cockfighting in Puerto Rico.”

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