The Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty on Tuesday. The decision was 8-1 based on free speech grounds. Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr reports:
The high court, voting 8-1, overturned the conviction of a Virginia man for selling videos of pit bulls fighting each other and attacking other animals.
Congress passed the law to target â€œcrush videos,â€ in which women stomp on small animals with their feet in a manner that some people find sexually arousing.
The Washingtom Post’s Robert BarnesÂ reports that all states already have animal cruelty laws, and this law never even prosecuted producers of these “crush videos.”
The case before the court, United States v. Stevens, involves Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Va., who was sentenced to three years in prison for making videos of pit bulls fighting. An appeals court overturned the conviction when it ruled the law was unconstitutional.
The 1999 Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act was too broad allowing for prosecution of even hunting magazines. As reported by the Christian Science Monitor’s Warren Richey; David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, a free-speech advocacy groupsaid:
â€œThis law put at risk a broad range of newspaper articles, films, books, and images of hunting and wasnâ€™t limited to dogfighting videos,â€
The ruling was written by Chief Justice John Roberts who stressed the importance of free speech rights. Justice Samuel Alito dissented:
saying the ruling effectively legalized the sale of crush videos and â€œis thus likely to spur a resumption of their production.â€ He said the animals in crush videos â€œare living creatures that experience excruciating pain.â€
The government’s argument was based on some things being worth of exclusion from free speech rights.
The Obama administration argued unsuccessfully that depictions of extreme animal cruelty, like obscenity and child pornography, are categorically excluded from the protections of the First Amendment.
Roberts rejected that reasoning, saying past high court cases â€œcannot be taken as establishing a freewheeling authority to declare new categories of speech outside the scope of the First Amendment.â€
The last time a subject had been considered not worthy of being protected by the 1st Amendment was 25 years ago, and the subject was child pornography.
David Horowitz, Executive Director of the Media Coalition (a free speech advocacy group) said of the ruling:
â€œGiving the government freewheeling authority to judge the social worth of words and images is a dangerous proposition,â€ he said. â€œThis landmark ruling affirms that First Amendment protections are not subject to balancing tests or limited to speech with so-called serious value.â€
The Humane Society intends to pass a more targeted law to stop the commercialization of animal cruelty.
â€œThe Supreme Courtâ€™s decision gives us a clear pathway to enact a narrower ban on the sale of videos depicting malicious acts of cruelty, including animal crush videos and dogfighting,â€ said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.