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Supreme Court Strikes Animal Cruelty Video Law

The Supreme Court today struck down a law against selling videos that show animal cruelty, voting 8-1, the AP reported.

“The justices threw out the criminal conviction of Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Va., who was sentenced to three years in prison for videos he made about pit bull fights,” an AP reporter writes. “…Stevens ran a business and Web site that sold videos of pit bull fights. He is among a handful of people prosecuted under the animal cruelty law.”

According to the AP’s report, the assenting justices voted in favor of striking down the law, which was enacted in 1999 to prevent the making and selling of crush videos, to avoid limiting free speech. “[Chief Justice John] Roberts said the law could be read to allow the prosecution of the producers of films about hunting. And he scoffed at the administration’s assurances that it would only apply the law to depictions of extreme cruelty.”

Does it not violate the spirit of the constitution if free speech comes at the expense of life? And perhaps a ban on videos that glorify the cowardly practice of shooting an unarmed, unassuming creature with an automatic weapon is, in fact, a positive, if unpopular, application of the law.

The single dissenting judge, Justice Samuel Alito, told the AP that the ruling might spur a new wave of crush videos because it has “the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos.” That is not to mention the sale of dog-, cock-, and bull-fighting videos, all of which promote cruelty as sport.

Roberts implied that this might be an opportunity for lawmakers to draft new legislation that will specifically ban filming and selling crush videos and other depictions of “extreme” cruelty. But who decides what amount of cruelty is acceptable? To me and many readers of this blog, hunting, fishing, and even butchering and some cooking videos constitute irresponsible depiction of extreme, unnecessary cruelty and exploitation. As god-awful annoying as those Got Milk? commercials are insomuch as they bring to mind the miserable lives of dairy cows, I’m willing to concede that those less direct implications of animal cruelty needn’t be banned. But why must we recoil at the broader applications of a law that was apparently pointing us toward more aware and rational conclusions?

As of this decision, there is no protection for animals filmed being brutalized, and no punishment for those who profit off filming the brutalization of animals. Contact your representative to politely and firmly ask for a law that protects animals from starring in “films” depicting their own cruelty.

Below, ABC’s report.


  1. Comment by


    on #

    Sorry, I’m with the Supreme Court on this one.

    If you want to make an argument based on the rule of law (if it’s wrong for one person, it’s wrong for everyone), you have to accept that the law will protect speech you don’t like. I would hope that vegans, who will always be an unpopular minority in our lifetimes, would understand the value of protecting unpopular speech promoting illegal activities. For instance, posting video of an ALF liberation action shouldn’t subject you to criminal penalties. Considering what happened to the SHAC 7, you’d think vegans would be some of the most pro-free speech folks out there – even when the speech itself is abhorrent.

  2. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Nice analysis from Will Potter: 3 Reasons Animal Rights Activists Should Support the Supreme Court?s Decision on Dog-Fighting Videos

    His conclusion:

    “Some activists have incorrectly portrayed the Supreme Court as ruling that animal cruelty is protected speech. Far from it. The court did not challenge the intent of this legislation, or its value. It simply said that this particular approach, this particular legislation, was too vague and too broad.

    “To put it another way, this ruling is not about supporting these despicable videos, it is about not prohibiting others. And that?s a sentiment which will ultimately benefit supporters of both mainstream and ?radical? animal rights activism.”

  3. Comment by


    on #

    Wait a minute. You guys need to read the original law that was struck down. That law prohibited possession/distribution of videos depicting animal cruelty only in cases where commercial activity is occurring. This is not a free speech issue, this is a commerce issue. And it is well established that Congress has the right to limit commerce where it deems appropriate. For deeper analysis, read this post: