U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Law Banning Depictions of Animal CrueltyPosted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Staff Attorney on April 20, 2010
The United States Supreme Court today issued its decision in the case of United States v. Stevens, a constitutional challenge to 18 U.S.C. § 48 (“Section 48”), the federal law that criminalized the sale of depictions of animal cruelty. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, 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.
Unfortunately, by a vote of 8 to 1, the Court held that the law violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment and is therefore unenforceable. The decision throws out the criminal conviction of Robert Stevens, who was sentenced to prison for making and selling videos of dogfights.
Justice Samuel Alito, the lone dissenting vote, said the harm animals suffer in dogfights is enough to sustain the law, and that the ruling will probably spur new “crush” videos, because it has “the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos.” Crush videos depict women in high heels crushing small animals to death for the sake of gratifying a sexual fetish.
ALDF’s attorneys are analyzing the decision carefully to evaluate how to respond to the overturning of Section 48. We will provide a more detailed summary of the opinion on the ALDF blog in the coming days.
Because the Supreme Court is the country’s highest court, it has the final say on the law’s constitutionality, and no further appeals are possible. However, the Court’s opinion leaves open the possibility of introducing to Congress a new, narrower law "limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty." We will let our members know as soon as possible how they can help. In the meantime, please visit ALDF’s Action Alerts page to see how you can fight cruelty now.
Not sure what the Court’s decision means for animals? Read "Clarifying the Supreme Court’s United States v. Stevens Opinion."