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Case for reinstating cockfighting on the Northern Mariana Islands dismissed

Cockfighting remains banned in the Northern Mariana Islands, despite arguments for its cultural and local significance.

(CN) — A protest against a federal ban on cockfighting and its application to the Northern Mariana Islands was dismissed by a federal judge on Thursday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ramona Manglona granted a motion by the United States to dismiss the case, ruling that the Northern Mariana Islands can be subject to federal policies under the covenant that established the islands as a commonwealth of the United States.

Andrew Salas, who had been an independent candidate for Northern Mariana Islands Senate this year, as well as a former member of the House of Representative and former Secretary of Commerce for the NMI, first filed the suit against the United States in May, asserting that cockfighting was an important internal cultural and political activity throughout the islands that should not be subject to federal regulations.

According to the initial suit, Salas had been “regularly and actively involved in the sport of cockfighting since childhood. He has raised hundreds of roosters for cockfighting purposes, and regularly entered such roosters in competitive cockfights in the CNMI for many years prior to 2019.”

The suit was brought as a response to the Agriculture Improvement Act, signed into law in 2018 by President Donald Trump, banning all forms of animal fighting throughout the 50 states and the territories.

Cockfighting, had already been federally banned in the 50 states since 1976, and completely outlawed by the states since 2008. Salas argued that the AIA was only targeting the laws in territories of the United States.

Salas contended that the Northern Mariana Islands were not named in the AIA, nor was the amendment in law made by the AIA already in effect when the islands became a part of the United States in 1978; the ban on cockfighting was therefore not applicable to the Northern Mariana Islands and is an intrusion on the internal affairs of the islands.

Judge Manglona wrote in her decision, “federal interests in regulating interstate commerce, preventing the spread of avian diseases, and ensuring humane treatment of animals, outweigh the degree of intrusion into the internal affairs of cockfighting. Therefore, the AIA dos not impermissibly intrude on the local affairs of the CNMI.”

Attorney for Salas, Joseph Horey of O'Connor Berman Horey & Banes, said in an interview that they intend to appeal the decision.

“I think they mistook some of the precedent and didn’t address some of the points we made. So, I like our chances on appeal. We hope that they will have a better grip on the issues to address it more thoroughly and accurately,” he said.

Representatives for the United States could not immediately be reached for comment.

The United States sought to dismiss the case with the argument that despite the Northern Mariana Islands’ unique relation to federal law, both the Agricultural Improvement Act and the Animal Welfare Act apply to the territory.

The Northern Mariana Islands, under the 1978 Covenant that established it as a commonwealth, has its own constitution and governing body, giving it a governmental structure closer to one of the states rather than its fellow territories.

Salas’ lawsuit comes after similar lawsuits brought against the United States from residents in Guam and Puerto Rico.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a Guam businessman last year, who was unable to show that cockfighting was a constitutional right. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to take up a challenge by Puerto Rico to the ban in 2021.

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