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Supreme Court Move Upholds Ruling in Favor of HISA

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority landed a legal victory June 24 when the Supreme Court of the United States denied a request to review a 2023 appeals’ court ruling in favor of racing’s new regulatory approach overseeing the sport’s anti-doping and medication policies as well as its safety issues.

Fully implemented in May 2023, HISA is tasked with crafting and enforcing racing’s policies related to anti-doping efforts, medication use, and safety issues. HISA is under the oversight of the Federal Trade Commission.

The appeal denied by the Supreme Court Monday was requested by the states of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Louisiana, their respective racing commissions, the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association and others. The states and others that filed the case argued that HISA was an example of the federal government overstepping its bounds and was unconstitutional. But both the district court and the appeals court rejected that argument.

On Monday the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, posted on its website that it would not review the appeals court decision—leaving in place that ruling that found HISA to be constitutional.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court has decided to let the Sixth Circuit Court’s ruling affirming HISA’s constitutionality stand,” said Charles Scheeler, chair of the HISA board of directors. “As evidenced by the 38% decline in equine fatalities recorded for the first quarter of this year, HISA’s uniform standards are having a material, positive impact on the health and well-being of horses. It is long past time for opponents of HISA to drop their outstanding lawsuits. In light of this decision, continued litigation only serves to take time and valuable resources away from our core mission of improving the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing.”

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The case originated in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The district court ruled in favor of HISA and the FTC and in March 2023 the U.S. Sixth Circuit of Appeals affirmed the district court decision in favor of HISA.

While other litigation contesting the constitutionality of HISA continues, this case was especially interesting because a fundamental component of HISA was amended while the appeal was pending. The amendment, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2022, came on the heels of a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that HISA was facially unconstitutional based on the delegation of too much power to HISA, a private corporation, and too little power to the FTC, an agency of the federal government. 

The change to the structure of the bill gives the FTC discretion to abrogate, add to, and modify any rules passed by HISA. Sixth Circuit Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton complimented that update in his decision to uphold HISA, which was unanimously upheld by the three judges of the appeals court.

“Sometimes government works,” wrote Sutton in his decision. “The Constitution anticipates, though it does not require, constructive exchanges between Congress and the federal courts. A productive dialogue occurred in this instance, and it ameliorated the concerns underlying the non-delegation challenge. As amended, the Horseracing Act gives the FTC the final say…”

While the Sixth Circuit decision considered the congressional amendment to HISA, the Fifth Circuit ruling preceded the amendment. HISA and the FTC asked that court to reconsider its decision in light of the amendment, but instead, the matter was remanded, or sent back, to two federal district courts.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act represents a significant step forward in ensuring the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing,” said Tom Rooney, CEO and president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. “This decision will allow HISA to continue its work to protect the health and safety of equine athletes, thereby fostering greater confidence and integrity in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. The impact of HISA’s regulations is already evident. During the first quarter of 2024, racetracks operating under HISA reported a substantial 38% reduction year over year in racing-related equine fatalities. These positive improvements demonstrate the efficacy of HISA’s centralized approach in enhancing the welfare of racehorses and promoting a safer racing environment. 

“It is time for all parties to stop their internal fighting and support HISA as the law of the land,” he said. 


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