Six South Carolina residents find themselves involved in a constitutional law dispute all thanks to cockfighting. The individuals were convicted on federal charges related to cockfighting. Under South Carolina law such a conviction is merely a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of one year in jail—though most get off with paying a fine. However, according to the defendants' attorney, Rauch Wise, "under the federal law, violators face up to five years in prison." The defendants are therefore appealing the conviction claiming that the federal government does not have jurisdiction over what they claim is essentially a state issue.
The federal government is using the same law, and same argument, as they did during Mike Vick's dog fighting case. That argument goes: the federal law prohibiting animal fighting is an appropriate exercise of congress' authority under the interstate commerce clause and the defendants were engaged in interstate commerce while cockfighting, therefore the federal government has jurisdiction to enforce the law.
In court documents, the government outlines several reasons why the case involved "interstate commerce." Prosecutors noted that several items, including leg bands, call slips for recordkeeping, vitamins, a syringe and a scale, were shipped from outside South Carolina to people present at the cockfights.
That may seem weak, but that's all they need. At one time the Commerce Clause was a free for all. The Supreme Court, under the late Chief Justice Rehnquist reined it in some, but it is still fairly nebulous and is Congress's go-to provision for enacting legislation. If the Prosecutors' assertions are true, it is also vastly different than the Wise's description of events. Namely that "Congress does not have right to prohibit burglary simply because someone steals a TV that was made out of state..." Obviously there is a difference between stealing something made in another state and using items from various states in order to facilitate a cockfighting business.
The Feds mean business now, too. Not only did they send an agent in undercover to videotape the operations, but they also "brought in witnesses from out of state — and even flew in one witness from England — to prove their case that the defendants were involved in interstate commerce." A ruling on the appeal is expected in 90 days, but don't hold your breath.
If only more South Carolinians had listened to Lane Kiffin, they may have been spared a life of crime.