Puerto Rico has asked the Supreme Court to consider whether Congress in 2018 had authority under the U.S. Constitution to ban the sport of cockfighting in the territory after appeals courts upheld the ban.
Cockfighting has been practiced on the island for 400 years and is recognized by Puerto Rican law to be a “cultural right of all Puerto Ricans.”
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the high court July 12, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico lamented the outlawing three years ago of what some call the territory’s “national sport” and an important part of local culture. The Puerto Rican government filed the brief in support of petitioners suing to undo the ban, whose case is pending before the Supreme Court.
The ban also hurt the local economy. Cockfighting injected $65 million annually into the territory’s economy and generated more than 11,000 jobs, the brief states.
By adopting Section 12616 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, “Congress made illegal every aspect of cockfighting in Puerto Rico, effectively eliminating an activity that many persons in Puerto Rico consider to be part of Puerto Rican culture, and represented a substantial source of economic activity, which Puerto Rico sorely needs in the dire economic situation it is presently confronting.”
Supporters of the ban say Congress has the power to prohibit cockfighting under the Interstate Commerce Clause, which gives the federal government the authority “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”
They claim the ban is appropriate because cockfighting has an effect on interstate commerce, which gives Congress authority over the practice.
The other side raises federalism concerns, arguing that cockfighting is a local issue that should be left to Puerto Ricans. They add that states have generally been left alone to regulate animal-involved sports such as rodeos, horse racing, and hunting.
Puerto Rico argues that cockfighting in the territory “is a commercial activity that is exclusively intrastate and does not affect interstate commerce.”
“There is no rational basis to believe that the activity of cockfighting in Puerto Rico may affect interstate commerce,” the brief states. Cockfighting “is not a good that may affect the interstate market; rather, it is an activity that may not be exported.”
Moreover, cockfighting was already unlawful in all U.S. states at the time the ban was approved, so “there was no substantial interstate market to consider,” the brief states, adding that “Puerto Rico law clearly and strictly limits this activity to gamecocks born and bred in Puerto Rico.”
Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898 after losing the Spanish–American War, and Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917. They don’t have voting representation in Congress, and U.S. citizens residing there don’t vote in presidential elections.
Local voters approved a constitution for the territory, which took effect July 25, 1952, according to the petition for certiorari, or review, filed with the high court June 11, in the case known as Angel Manuel Ortiz-Diaz v. United States, court file 20-1735.
The petitioners are represented by attorney John Michael Connolly of Consovoy McCarthy in Arlington, Virginia.
The petition states that by approving that constitution, Congress “relinquished its control over the organization of the local affairs of the island and granted Puerto Rico a measure of autonomy comparable to that possessed by the States,” according to the Supreme Court’s 1976 ruling in Examining Board of Engineers v. Flores de Otero (1976).
“Accordingly, ‘Puerto Rico, like a state, is an autonomous political entity sovereign over matters not ruled by the [Federal] Constitution,’” the petition states, citing Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, a 2016 Supreme Court precedent.
Acting U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.