Supreme Court Won't Hear HISA Constitutionality Challenge to Sixth Circuit Ruling

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The United States Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act (HISA) filed by Oklahoma, Louisiana and West Virginia after the Sixth Court Circuit's Court of Appeals found that HISA is constitutional, according to an announcement from the Supreme Court Monday.

“Certiorari denied,” was the only statement coming from the court regarding the ruling, which was included among a monthly list of numerous other writ approvals and denials that the Supreme Court made public in batch format June 24.

A writ of certiorari is the primary means to petition the Supreme Court for a review of a lower court's ruling.

The Supreme Court's ruling on Monday is not to be confused with a related, but different, case whose forthcoming ruling has been highly anticipated within the racing industry for nearly nine months now.

That case involves a three-year legal fight led by the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) to try and overturn HISA based on alleged constitutional flaws. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans heard oral arguments in that case back on Oct. 4, 2023, but has yet to issue a ruling.

Should that Fifth Circuit appeal end up producing a ruling contrary to the Sixth Circuit's upholding of HISA, it, too, is very likely to produce petitions to the Supreme Court from either side to try and clear up what would then be conflicting rulings in two federal appeals courts.

When any issue produces contrary rulings from two different federal appeals courts, the Supreme Court is more likely to deem that that issue deserves its attention.

The writ that got rejected on Monday dates from six weeks after the Sixth Circuit Appeals Court upheld HISA's constitutionality in March 2023. That's when the losing plaintiffs asked for an en banc hearing at the appeals court level, where all 28 judges would need to rule on the matter. They were denied, and now the highest court in the land has said that it, too, will not hear the challenge.

HISA's chairman of the board, Charles Scheeler, praised the Supreme Court's decision.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court has decided to let the Sixth Circuit Court's ruling affirming HISA's constitutionality stand,” Scheeler said in a written statement. “As evidenced by the 38 percent 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,” Scheeler continued. “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.”

Tom Rooney, the President and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, also pronounced himself pleased with the decision.

“Today's Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of HISA represents a significant step forward in ensuring the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing,” Rooney said in a written statement.

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

Emails seeking comment from the attorneys general representing the three petitioner states did not yield replies prior to publication of this story.

Eric Hamelback, the CEO of the National HBPA, circulated a memo to his membership which said, in part:

“As you know, the case filed by Oklahoma was decided by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that HISA is constitutional after the amendment to HISA was made following our win in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Oklahoma case is now effectively closed, but our case is still very much active.

 We still could hear any day from the Fifth Circuit on whether HISA remains unconstitutional after the congressional tweak. The oral argument last October went very well for us. If the Fifth Circuit rules our way again, that could shut down HISA in many, if not all, states.”

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