Legal challenge to US horse racing reform denied by judge

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A major lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act in the United States has been thrown out of federal court.

Texas Judge James Wesley Hendrix dismissed a lawsuit brought by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

The racing legislation, endorsed by several major industry bodies and widely supported by lawmakers, is scheduled to take effect in July next year.

It will require uniform national safety standards that include anti-doping and drug control, as well as racetrack safety programs.

The fractured nature of anti-doping and track safety efforts in the country’s 38 racing jurisdictions has long drawn criticism.

Supporters of the bill argued that the patchwork of regulations undermined public confidence in horse racing, threatened the integrity of the competition and, in the view of advocacy groups, endangered human and equine athletes.

Under the law, an independent anti-doping authority for racing will establish uniform national standards, testing procedures and penalties for thoroughbred racing. The nonprofit US Anti-Doping Agency, the nation’s leading anti-doping organization, will handle enforcement, laboratory testing and violations.

Judge Hendrix, ruling in the National Protective and Benevolent Association of Horsemen v. Black, ruled that the act was constitutional. However, he said some issues at issue in the lawsuit still require clarification.

The association and its affiliates argued that Congress cannot delegate regulation of the US racing industry to an unelected body, in this case, the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Authority.

The judge agreed with the association that it was a novel structure for national regulation of the industry and said that those who challenged the law had made convincing arguments that it went too far. However, those issues in terms of precedent were a matter for the appellate courts.

Animal Wellness Action executive director Marty Irby, who testified before Congress at a January 2020 hearing on the legislation, welcomed the judge’s ruling.

“We applaud the court for validating what we knew all along, the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act is within the bounds of the US Constitution and the intent of the Commerce Clause: some of The brightest legal minds in Congress, the animal protection space, and thoroughbred horse racing prepared and vetted a bulletproof measure that is now the law of the land.

“It is time for the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Authority to swiftly implement the new law as intended and secure a contract with the US Anti-Doping Agency to oversee all testing and enforcement so that racing can begin. eradication of doping.

“We congratulate the authority on this tremendous victory that led to the celebration of the 148th Kentucky Derby.”

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) also welcomed the ruling. President and CEO Kitty Block, in a joint statement with Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said she applauded the decision by the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

“We worked with key industry stakeholders to pass legislation to protect racehorses from illicit drugs that mask pain or enhance their performance, leading to fatal breakdowns. It will also improve track conditions that endanger the health and well-being of racehorses and their jockeys.

“We commend the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Authority, which was created by this law, for stepping up to uphold the act in this case.”

The racetrack safety portion of the law will go into effect on July 1, they said. “With other parties, we are eager to see the authority select an agency to oversee the crucial element of the drug control law.

“We urge the organization to move quickly to negotiate a contract with an anti-doping agency that can meet the Congressional mandate to control drug addiction in American horse racing. The lives of racehorses are at stake, and time is of the essence.”

US Jockey Club President James Gagliano also welcomed the court ruling. “For those who have long supported the passage and implementation of the Act, this is an outcome that we have long anticipated.”

He thanked Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Authority President Charlie Scheeler, Executive Director Lisa Lazarus and their team for their dedication to the cause of equine safety and integrity in racing.

However, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Association (HBPA) indicated that the legal challenges may not be over.

“Aspects of this law will have a devastating effect on our industry and put many hard-working jockeys and riders out of business,” said CEO Eric Hamelback.

“We have been saying for several years that this legislation was illegal. We are considering our options to appeal the decision and remain committed to doing due diligence to ensure a legal solution is adopted that protects the health and well-being of our equine and human athletes.”

In his decision, Judge Hendrix acknowledged that his court cannot “enlarge or narrow” precedent, making the ruling ripe for appeal.

The National HBPA and its affiliates in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Tampa Bay are represented in the case by Liberty Justice Center, a national nonprofit law firm. dedicated to protecting fundamental constitutional rights.

“We are encouraged that Judge Hendrix has recognized the strength of our arguments and plans to push them vigorously on appeal,” said Daniel Suhr, managing attorney for the Liberty Justice Center.

“Congress cannot cede its legal authority to regulate an entire industry to a private organization. This case remains important to protect the integrity of not only the horse racing industry, but also our Constitution.”

The Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Authority is still facing a separate federal lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

That lawsuit, filed in Lexington, Kentucky, was brought by the United States Trotting Association; the states of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Louisiana with the support of six other states; and other entities including two racing commissions and the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association.