Cockfighting ban challenge dismissed


Ramona Manglona

After over a month since taking the matter under advisement, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona has ordered the permanent dismissal of the lawsuit filed by former CNMI representative Andrew Salas to lift the U.S. law prohibiting cockfighting in the CNMI.

Manglona issued her decision last Thursday to dismiss with prejudice the lawsuit filed by Salas against the United States over the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, specifically section 12616, which ultimately prohibited cockfighting in the CNMI. Dismissal with prejudice means the case cannot be refiled.

Manglona’s 15-page order accepted as true Salas’ argument that cockfighting is a traditional local recreational activity that is also a quintessential “internal affair” that the federal government shouldn’t intrude on.

However, after weighing all the facts, she determined that the federal interests served by Section 12616 of the AIA, which amended article 7 of the U.S. Code, subsection 2156 (7 U.S.C. § 2156), outweighs the alleged intrusion into CNMI local affairs.

“Plaintiff proposes that the CNMI has cultural and political interests in cockfighting, which the federal government is attempting to eradicate with colonialist overtones. The court accepts plaintiff’s factual allegations as true; so, assuming that cockfighting is deeply entrenched in the CNMI’s internal affairs, the question is whether that outweighs the federal interests. This is a legal issue such that if the court determines that the federal interest in banning cockfighting outweighs the degree of intrusion into the CNMI’s internal affairs, the motion to dismiss must be granted,” she said.

Manglona said that federal interests in regulating interstate commerce, preventing the spread of avian diseases, and ensuring the humane treatment of animals outweigh the degree of intrusion into the internal affairs of cockfighting.

Andrew Salas

“Therefore, the AIA dos not impermissibly intrude on the local affairs of the CNMI,” she stated.

Salas has requested leave to amend if the motion to dismiss was granted because he stated that he could plead more facts regarding the importance of cockfighting in the CNMI. However, Manglona reiterated that weighing the federal interest to the degree of intrusion into the CNMI’s local affairs is unnecessary.

“Plaintiff’s proffer of providing more facts about how deeply entrenched cockfighting is the CNMI would not cure the deficiency. Such amendment would be futile because the federal interests in regulating interstate commerce, preventing the spread of avian flu, and ensuring the humane treatment of animals outweigh the degree of intrusion into the internal affairs of the CNMI as it relates to the tradition of cockfighting,” the judge stated.

Salas intends to appeal the ruling, Horey said in an email. That appeal would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In December 2021, that court affirmed a ruling of the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam that Congress has the authority to bar animal fighting throughout the United States, including in the U.S. territories. That case was brought by Guam-based cockfighting enthusiast Sedfrey Linsangan, who appealed a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam that his claims were legally invalid, and that U.S. law bans cockfighting in Guam.

According to Saipan Tribune archives, Salas, through his attorney, Joseph Horey, sought relief in the form of a judgment declaring that a specific section of the Agriculture Improvement Act that effectively banned cockfighting in the CNMI is not applicable to or effective in the Northern Marianas.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump signed a law banning all animal fighting in the territories. Prior to the law, cockfighting had been illegal in the 50 states but not in territories.

Two months before, in October 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari from cockfighters and political leaders in Puerto Rico seeking relief from the same federal law that bans cockfighting there. That pleading came to the Supreme Court after a U.S. District Court in San Juan and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the claims of cockfighting interests and their local political allies in Puerto Rico.

“Two prior challenges to the 2018 federal law against staged animal fighting were met with unanimous disapproval by five federal courts, and a sixth court has added its voice,” said Wayne Pacelle of Animal Wellness Action, which has filed pleadings in the prior cases and was prepared to file an amicus brief in this case if it went to trial. “The Congress has determined that cockfighting is bound up with interstate commerce and that the United States has authority to outlaw staged animal combat everywhere in the United States because of our national interest in protecting animals and stemming the spread of zoonotic disease.”

The 2018 federal law built on an already strong federal statute to combat animal fighting by making it a felony to operate a cockfighting venue or to participate in animal fights. Other provisions of the federal anti-animal fighting law – such as prohibitions on transporting or receiving fighting birds, trading in fighting implements, or being a spectator at an animal fighting event – had already applied to the territories for years.

“Mr. Salas is free to appeal, but he and other CNMI cockfighters should heed the law and stop hacking up animals for illegal gambling and the thrill of watching the bloodletting,” added Pacelle. “The activity he refers to as a hobby and a tradition is a federal felony.” (With AP)

Kimberly Bautista Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Bautista Esmores has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at
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