Depictions of Cruelty

Posted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Staff Attorney on June 18, 2009

For the first time in more than fifteen years, the United States
Supreme Court will directly address the issue of animal cruelty, and
the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a brief in defense of the
animals’ interests.

On April 20, the Supreme Court granted the request of the United States Department of Justice to review United States v. Stevens,
a case involving the sale of dogfighting videos. The last time the
Court directly addressed animal cruelty was in the 1993 case Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah,
in which the Court struck down a poorly-drafted municipal ordinance
targeting religious sacrifice of animals. The question before the Court
in Stevens is whether 18 U.S.C. § 48
(“Section 48”), a federal law that criminalizes the sale of depictions
of animal cruelty, violates the Free Speech Clause of the First
Amendment to the United States Constitution. ALDF, an expert on animal
cruelty laws, submitted an amicus curiae brief urging the
Court to uphold the law and recognize that the prevention of cruelty to
animals is a compelling government interest.

The defendant in
the case is Robert Stevens, who was convicted in January 2005 of
violating Section 48 by selling three videos depicting dogfights and hog-dogging,
including graphic depictions of a pit bull mutilating the lower jaw of
a live pig. Not only did Stevens sell the videos, he also narrated
them, produced them, and advertised them in dogfighting magazines.
Stevens appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals
for the Third Circuit. In a 10-3 decision,
the Third Circuit held that Section 48 violated the Free Speech Clause
of the First Amendment. The court declined the government’s request to
establish a new class of speech–depictions of animal cruelty–that is
“unprotected” by the First Amendment. To date, there are only a handful
of “unprotected” types of speech: slander/libel, incitement, obscenity,
fighting words, true threats, and child pornography.

Although ALDF is not a party to the Stevens case, we submitted an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief in the case. An amicus curiae
brief permits a non-party to offer its view of a case, typically
premised on either its interest in the outcome or its expertise in the
field. ALDF’s brief, which we filed on Monday, will encourage the
Court to recognize the protection of animals as a compelling government
interest and uphold Section 48. The Supreme Court will hold oral
argument in the case this fall.

7 thoughts on “Depictions of Cruelty

  1. K. James says:

    This is wonderful news! I hope other organizations such as the HSUS are able to submit Amicus briefs as well.

  2. K. James says:

    I see that the HSUS already submitted an Amicus brief.

  3. Dalia says:

    this is wonderful!!great news!!

  4. Devin McCormick says:

    This could be and hopefully will be a changing point in animal rights and is equal to civil rights and the rights of women, people of color and other groups that have been discriminated against in the past, for no valid reason. I hope the Supreme court has the intelligence to realize this is not a choice, its a matter of equal rights for all living creatures and not something you discriminate against based on one species or the other.

  5. juliia edgerton says:

    Great news…

  6. RonJeremy says:

    Submit all the amicus briefs you like. Section 48 is going down. It is a shameful attack on the first amendment, and has never even been used to prosecute a crush video. Only to violate honest americans civil rights.

  7. Joe F says:

    Ron, you appear to be pleased that a law whose intention is to prevent atrocities against animals is, in your words, “going down”. Perhaps the ALDF website is not the place for you.

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