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April 9, 2010 3:58 PM

Arnold & Porter Aids in Defense of Anti-Cockfighting Laws

Posted by Zach Lowe

While cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, a recent amendment to federal legislation created added penalties for those caught transporting items associated with the so-called sport, including the sharp blades sometimes attached to a bird's feet, across state lines. The development drew the wrath of a group the Humane Society of the United States labels "cockfighting enthusiasts," which responded by challenging the amendment creating those penalties as unconstitutional limitations on their ability to sell birds and freely travel, court records show. 

Those plaintiffs, who filed suits against the federal government in federal district court in Ohio in 2008,  include people who sell fowl and feed and claim their businesses have suffered because legitimate customers fear being prosecuted under the new law. The plaintiffs also claimed that the law limited their ability to travel to territories, including Puerto Rico, where cockfighting remains legal. 

The government argued in defense of the law, with the Humane Society entering the case as an amicus. The group brought in Arnold & Porter, working pro bono, to help with the brief. The district court dismissed the case last year, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed that decision Friday--and did so rather emphatically. "We are very happy," says Mark Colley, an Arnold & Porter partner who has done pro bono work for the Humane Society for 25 years.

How did Colley's relationship with the Humane Society start? As is often the case, by complete accident, he says. Colley certainly did not enter law school with an eye toward doing animal protection law; schools didn't even teach such courses when he was a student, he reminds us.

Colley says he was one of the few associates in the firm's Washington, D.C., office one day when the telephone rang. When he picked it up, a Humane Society executive on the other end of the line told the young lawyer that the group needed help with a case involving the clubbing of seals. He ended up doing the work and quickly got hooked.

"I just fell into it," Colley says. "It's a cause I'm emotionally and intellectually supportive of." Over the years, he has handled matters involving conditions at wildlife refuges in the U.S., the hunting of elephants in Africa, and whether trophies from elephant hunting can be brought into the U.S., he says. 

In the cockfighting case, the Sixth Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue, since they could not prove the federal legislation caused them any actual injury. Law-abiding customers of fowl and feed shops have nothing to fear from the law, the court ruled. And, the court wrote, because cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, those traveling between states with the intent of participating in or attending a cockfight are already in violation of state laws. 

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I wonder why a group called the Humane Society of the "United States" tries to influence the policy of other countries such as hunting in Africa. I thought this bogus "society" was concerned with happenings in the USA and not trying to influence the lives of people in other countries just like our government does. Does anyone see a parallel here?

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