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High Court: Dogfight videos are free speech


The Supreme Court has ruled that videos showing dogfights and other acts of animal cruelty are protected by free speech.

The court, in an 8-1 decision, struck down a federal law designed to stop the sale and marketing of such videos. The justices concluded the 10-year-old statute was overly broad.

The case before the court stemmed from an appeal by Robert Stevens, of Pittsville, Virginia, who sold videos through his business, Dogs of Velvet and Steel. The tapes show pit bulldogs attacking other animals and one another in staged confrontations.

The high court threw out Stevens’ conviction for selling depictions of animal cruelty.

Stevens argued his 37-month sentence sentence was longer than the 14 months given professional football player Michael Vick, who ran an illegal dogfighting ring.

His case was the first prosecution in the United States to proceed to trial under the 1999 law.

“The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the government outweigh its costs,” said Chief Justice John Roberts. Congress had not sufficiently shown “depictions” of dogfighting were enough to justify a special category of exclusion from the protections the Constitution affords free speech, he said.

“This is what I was hoping for,” Stevens told CNN just after the ruling was announced. “I am not nor have I ever been a dog fighter or a promoter of dogfighting. I am a journalist and an author.”

Among the products Stevens advertised was “Catch Dogs,” featuring pit bulls chasing wild boars on organized hunts and a “gruesome depiction of a pit bull attacking the lower jaw of a domestic farm pig,” according to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based appeals court that ruled on the case earlier.

The Supreme Court has identified only one form of speech undeserving of protection by the First Amendment. — child pornography.

crushOnly Justice Samuel Alito dissented in the case, referring in his dissent to so-called crush videos, in which women are shown stomping helpless animals such as rabbits to death with spiked-heel shoes or with their bare feet.

“The animals used in crush videos are living creatures that experience excruciating pain. Our society has long banned such cruelty,” he said. The courts, he said, have “erred in second-guessing the legislative judgment about the importance of preventing cruelty to animals.”

He predicted mores crush videos will soon flood the underground market, because the ruling has “the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos.”

Roberts suggested a law specifically banning crush videos might be valid, since it would be narrowly tailored to a specific type of commercial enterprise.

Alito noted that would not help dogs forced to fight each other, where, he said, “the suffering lasts for years rather than minutes.”

The Humane Society, other animal rights groups and 26 states backed the law against depictions of animal cruelty.

The Humane Society of the United States expressed disappointment at the opinion and said in a press release that it hoped to see a more narrowly crafted statute to crack down on the sale of videos showing illegal acts of animal cruelty.


Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time April 20, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Disgusting. How can the ACT of animal cruelty and dog fighting in particular be illegal….but depictions of it are legal? Does the same apply to “human cruelty?” Why not?? I was floored today when this breaking news blared across my screen. We don’t need just one new court justice; apparently we need EIGHT. Little wonder why violence is so prevalent and basically accepted as today’s natural order.

Comment from Alexis
Time April 21, 2010 at 11:27 am

OH GOODIE!!! A new career for Michael Vick is now just awaiting bankrolling! He can take all of his expertise and add in videography and scoop up even more obscenely gotten profits!

I wonder just what kind of slippery slope this really BAD decision by the Court will create. I think there are some horrific unintended consequences waiting in the wings.

Speaking of bankrolling – follow the money on this underlying court battle. I think you will find that what financed it was arguably THE most well-funded and powerful lobbying group in Washington. Clue: 3-letter acronym starting with “N.”

Comment from John
Time May 13, 2010 at 10:22 am

Everyone’s freedom of speech is worth protecting — whether the Humane Society likes it or not. Who made them the screeners of what Americans can and cannot watch? Like Davey Crocket said many years ago ‘the only thing that gets me madder than someone saying ‘Davey, you must read this’ is someone saying ‘Davey, you can’t read this’ — an eternal truth.

Comment from Mohamed le Zoologiste
Time March 13, 2011 at 11:16 am

Donnez-moi des liens de ces vidéos pour m’en servir comme preuve, je vais ainsi pouvoir envoyer un rapport à l’organisation de protection des animaux en Algérie dont je suis membre, et elle va à son tour envoyer un rapport à la SPCA et SCTA pour en finir définitivement avec ces abominations .

Comment from DT
Time July 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Animal crush videos are disgusting and straight up wrong. I don’t know who gets enjoyment seeing a living thing suffer. Not all crush videos are of animals, though and this has given them a bad rap. If a woman wants to smash a non-living object in some heels, that is quite enjoyable to watch and harms nobody.