USA

Supreme Court overturns law banning depictions of animal cruelty

In a majority of eight-to-one, the court ruled that the law is too broad and therefore invalid under the First Amendment

The US Supreme court has struck down a 1999 federal law banning videos that depict animal cruelty, ruling that it violates constitutional rights to free speech. The case involved Robert Stevens, a Virginia man who sold videos of fighting pit bull terriers. He was the first person to be prosecuted under the new law in 2004, and was sentenced to 37 months in prison.

Among the groups opposing the law were US museums, artists and academics, including the College Art Association, which claimed it could criminalise the sale of art or images showing hunting scenes, and work by contemporary artists such as Adel Abdessemed, whose film of livestock slaughter in rural Mexico has met with protests from animal protectionists. The law's proponents argue that it rightly reduces sales of animal cruelty videos, which they say cause severe harm to animals and dehumanise participants.

Writing for the majority of the court, Chief Justice John J. Roberts Jr, said the law is “substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment”. Furthermore, Justice Roberts wrote that, despite the government’s assurance that it would apply the law only to “extreme” depictions of animal cruelty, “this Court will not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the Government promises to use it responsibly”.

Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter, writing: “The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it most certainly does not protect violent criminal conduct, even if engaged in for expressive purposes”.

In reaction to the decision, Andrew Tauber, a lawyer at Mayer Brown LLP who represented the National Coalition Against Censorship and the College Art Association in a "friend of the court" brief contesting the law, said: “Today’s decision in Stevens is a strongly worded reaffirmation of long-standing First Amendment principles. The Supreme Court rightly rejected the government’s position as ‘startling and dangerous’. In striking down Section 48 as unconstitutional, the Court has eliminated a continuing threat to free speech that would have chilled artistic and other forms of expression”.

The Humane Society of the United States, which also submitted a “friend of the court" brief supporting the law, issued a statement saying it was disappointed at the ruling but expressed “optimism that Congress will be allowed to draft a more narrowly crafted statute to crack down on the sale of videos showing illegal acts of animal cruelty”.

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Comments

22 Apr 10
0:3 CET

CMCMCM, LOS ANGELES

.... Vietnam showed the our elected officials how to lose a war in the publics eye, the daily images of American soldiers caskets flowing from the fuselages of our own flying symbols of victory, draped in our own guilty red white & blue, castrated and unable pretend, images do not go away, with the strings and the magician seen, the illusion is lost. These lessons have been learned, we now rarely see or hear of the many men and women who lose their lives in the name of progress and democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are much more comfortable killing things or letting other people kill and die for them or for their things, to get them more things or to just become their next drive-thru $1.99 burger or Louie Vitton clutch, just as long as they don’t have to participate or think about who or what had to die for them to get it. Who are we attempting to protect here? The animals? Or Us?

22 Apr 10
0:3 CET

CMCMCM, LOS ANGELES

Unfortunately the law could extend to films depicting the abhorrence of animal abuse such as the work done by undercover animal rights investigators (HBO Documentaries), PETA and the like. We already have laws protecting animal from abuse, perhaps those laws need to be enforced more stringently. There are many laws, ordinances that are on the books and for lack of funds, manpower, interest, political and financle obstacles, rules and laws already in place are neglected. There may be a benefit here to those who would actually do animals harm in the way of industry and progress, meat for your freezer and flesh for your shoes. Perhaps an industry built on the mass killing of those we seek to protect from being glorified as their last breath needs to be more thoughtfully looked at. Perhaps this needs to displayed more and as often as possible. As a culture we culture the passive participation in many abhorrent and despicable behaviors, just as long as we don’t have to see it.

21 Apr 10
16:14 CET

LORETTA FEENEY, HYANNIS

What is wrong with us? A society that allows and condones pictures and videos of animal cruelty to be shown and distributed is sick.

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