Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, the federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.
The 5th Circuit Court said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is "facially unconstitutional."
The authority created by the law was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing, amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit, in two rulings issued Friday, ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.
The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject the law's regulations, but it can't modify them. And the authority may reject proposed modifications.
Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act — including the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states — that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.
"A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency," Judge Kyle Duncan of Baton Rouge wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.
The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King of Houston and Kurt Engelhardt of Metairie, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging the law in a different case.
Duncan and Engelhardt were nominated to the 5th Circuit by President Donald Trump, King by President Jimmy Carter.
The chair of the horseracing authority's board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday's ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit Court or the Supreme Court. "If today's ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until Jan. 10, at the earliest," Charles Scheeler said. "We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of thoroughbred racing, including the launch of [the law's] anti-doping and medication control program on Jan. 1."
The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. "Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act's constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission's limited oversight was sufficient," Irby said.
Among the subjects covered by the authority's rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders may use it during a race, racetrack accreditation and the reporting of training and veterinary records.
Jeff Landry hails ruling
Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to industry scandals involving medication and the treatment of horses.
Duncan wrote that in declaring the law unconstitutional, "we do not question Congress's judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane."
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling the law a "federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing."