Private corporation given legislative, executive powers to govern horseracing goes on trial in federal court
Thoroughbred horse owners, trainers sued to block the illegal power shift
LUBBOCK, Texas (April 26, 2023) — Today, in a bench trial in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Texas, Judge James Wesley Hendrix heard evidence and arguments on whether Congress can grant lawmaking and law enforcement power to a private corporation to govern a nationwide industry. The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) and 12 of its affiliates are suing the Federal Trade Commission and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, a private corporation invested by Congress with governmental powers to write rules, conduct searches and seizures, and levy fees and fines, and issue lifetime suspensions from involvement in the horseracing industry.
The National HBPA filed a federal lawsuit to stop the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) on March 15, 2021. In the subsequent two years of litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has already declared the Act unconstitutional once. The National HBPA and its affiliates are represented by attorney Daniel Suhr and Fernando Bustos.
“We appreciate the opportunity today to fully outline how this law undermines not only 125 years of horseracing governance but also the governing power of Congress as laid out by our founders in the Constitution,” said National HBPA CEO Eric Hamelback. “Rather than strengthening our industry or protecting horses, this law is a threat to our rights and Thoroughbred horseracing. The courts have previously ruled in favor of horsemen’s efforts to stop this illegal law and we hope to be successful again.”
The stakes in National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association v. Black are incredibly high. Congress passed HISA as part of a Covid aid package in 2020. Congress granted a brand-new private corporation unparalleled governmental power without the democratic transparency and accountability required for government agencies. While Congress tasked the Federal Trade Commission with overseeing the Authority, it handcuffed the FTC by preventing it from exercising pervasive surveillance and control over the Authority.
“This law directly undercuts the principles of federalism and democratic accountability that are core to our constitution,” said Daniel Suhr, lead attorney for the National HBPA and its affiliates. “Congress empowered an unelected, private cooperation to police an entire industry. If left unchecked by the courts, Congress opens the door for more powerful special interest groups to gain unfettered control over other industries. This is a threat to democracy and free enterprise.”
States are also challenging HISA in the courts. The State of Texas joined National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association v. Black and Oklahoma, Louisiana, and West Virginia are fighting HISA in other federal courts. The states argue HISA ends over a century of state regulation of horseracing and applies top-down standards from a private corporation, rather than politically accountable state officials in cooperation with horsemen.
Founded in 1940, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is the world’s largest Thoroughbred horsemen’s organization, representing approximately 30,000 owners and trainers throughout the United States and Canada. The responsibilities of the NHBPA and its affiliates have greatly expanded as the racing industry has become more complex. In addition to its original general benevolence mission, the HBPA is the leading voice for horsemen as well as working towards the advancement of the horseracing industry through safety and integrity initiatives, promoting racing and assisting in the development of aftercare programs for retired racehorses.
Daniel Suhr is lead attorney for the plaintiffs in National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association v. Black. He is senior legal fellow at the National Opportunity Project, a nonprofit government watchdog and education organization, and president of the National Center for Justice and Liberty, a nonprofit law firm.
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