HBPA: 'Best Of Both Worlds' For HISA Is 'Worst Of All Worlds' For Horsemen

Lisa Lazarus | The Jockey Club Photo

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With oral arguments in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit now five weeks away, the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) filed a legal brief Aug. 25 underscoring that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) Authority unconstitutionally “wants the best of both worlds” by allegedly portraying itself as both a governmental body or a private organization “depending on which suits its interests on any individual argument.”

“Sometimes [the Authority] wants to be like a government entity, with the power to compel registration, collect mandatory fees, conduct searches, draw blood and urine samples, and impose sanctions with 'the force of federal law,'” stated the 36-page brief filed Friday by the NHBPA and 12 of its affiliates.

“Other times it wants to be a private business league, choosing its own board, running its own corporate affairs, and exempt from the Appointments and Appropriations clauses, the Freedom of Information Act, etc…” the brief continued.

This purported dual nature of the Authority, the NHBPA alleged, “exposes the overall flaw” by which the 2022 rewrite of the HISA law should be struck down.

“Nothing could be more unfair or inequitable than to have a regulator with all the powers of government but exempt from all the democratic accountability and safeguards for liberty imposed on government,” the NHBPA's filing stated.

“The best of both worlds for the Authority is the worst of all worlds for horsemen,” the NHBPA's filing asserted.

The Fifth Circuit oral arguments scheduled for the first week in October represent the latest attempt by the NHBPA to derail the HISA law via an underlying lawsuit that has persisted in the federal court system for nearly 2 ½ years.

In addition to the HISA Authority, personnel from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are defendants in that suit.

Back on Aug. 4, the Authority defendants filed their own brief that told the court the continued legal attacks by the NHBPA are futile because “Congress, the Executive, and all three federal courts that have considered the amended Act have reached the same conclusion: HISA is now constitutional…

“Appellants' scattershot attempts to invalidate the Act on other grounds come up short, too,” the Authority's brief continued.

The NHBPA's Aug. 25 filing swatted back at those claims, citing a legal precedent that stated “it is a central tenet of liberty that the government may not…allow private individuals to regulate other private individuals.”

As the NHBPA put it, “That is now what happens every day in horseracing. The district court must be reversed, and the Act declared unconstitutional, again.”

The first time the HBPA plaintiffs attempted to challenge the original 2020 version of the HISA statute in federal court, on Mar. 15, 2021, the suit was dismissed, on March 31, 2022.

The HBPA plaintiffs then appealed, leading to the above-referenced Fifth Circuit Court reversal on Nov. 18, 2022, that remanded the case back to the lower court. In the interim, an amended version of HISA got passed by Congress and was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Dec. 29, 2022.

On May 4, 2023, the lower court deemed that the new version of HISA was constitutional because the rewrite of the law fixed the problems the Fifth Circuit had identified.

The HBPA plaintiffs then swiftly filed another appeal back to the Fifth Circuit, which is where the case stands now.

“The FTC and the Authority continue to tie themselves in knots trying to get around two obvious problems: the Act, even as revised, does not allow the FTC to amend or modify rules when they are proposed by the Authority,” the NHBPA's Aug. 25 filing stated. “And the Act, even as revised, still requires the FTC to approve rules written by the Authority on a consistency basis, which this Court held to be a violation of the private non-delegation doctrine.”

The NHBPA alleged in its filing that the Authority and the FTC's “solution to a lack of public accountability is to find an additional way to eliminate public accountability, making matters worse.”

The NHBPA's filing warned of dire ramifications to society in general if the Fifth Circuit doesn't declare the recently amended HISA law unconstitutional.

“If this Court ratifies this law, we will see more and more of our democracy slip away as Congress increasingly turns to this convenient charade of private self-regulatory corporations to govern entire industries,” the NHBPA's filing stated.

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