As the revised federal law banning cockfighting nears its Dec. 20 implementation, the defeat of Puerto Rico's challenge in a federal court may leave Guam with little room to make a similar move.

Last month, Puerto Rico District Court Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi ruled in the Puerto Rico case that neither the commonwealth’s political status nor the Territorial Clause impede the United States government from enacting laws that apply "to all citizens of this nation alike, whether as a state or territory.” 

Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action, stated the federal judge settled two lingering questions, which are:

• Does the federal law against animal fighting apply to the five U.S. territories? and

• Does the federal law ban all cockfighting activities, or just those activities where a rooster has been transported across state lines for a fight?  

"Gelpi said the answer to both questions is an emphatic 'Yes,'" Pacelle stated.

Cultural and historical

He added that the judge's decision, in the context of prior rulings that reach very similar conclusions, "establishes that cockfighting is illegal everywhere in the U.S., including in Guam – that is most certainly the case as of Dec. 20, when the latest upgrade to the law takes effect.”

Guam lawmakers have begun efforts to carve out legislation to continue cockfighting, citing, in part, cultural and historical significance of the practice.

Such an effort, Pacelle stated, "has zero chance of moving. Not a single senator or U.S. representative outside of the territories will support it," he said.

In August, the Guam Legislature announced it "stood up to defend the culturally significant practice of cockfighting on Guam."

Federal felonies

Last year, the 2018 Farm Bill was passed in the U.S. Congress to extend the cockfighting ban to the territories. "No input from the people of Guam was ever received. As a result, the Guam Legislature passed an amendment that would make spending local funds to enforce this unfunded mandate as the lowest priority for the government of Guam," the Legislature announced in August through Speaker Tina Muña Barnes' office.

Congress has upgraded the federal law in 2002, 2007, 2008, 2013, and 2018 and made animal fighting; possessing animals for fighting; transporting fighting animals or fighting implements across national, state, or territorial lines; or bringing a minor to a fight a federal felony, Pacelle's group states. It is a federal misdemeanor to attend an animal fight, the group added.

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