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.
Only 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.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 20th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
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