Who Really Won In The Supreme Court Animal Rights-Free Speech Decision?

dog FightingSo who were the winners from the big news First Amendment decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday? Free-speech advocates say the Supreme Court protected the First Amendment. Animal-rights advocates say it showed how Congress could pass a new anti-animal cruelty law, according to the Christian Science Monitor:

Free speech advocates praised Tuesday’s US Supreme Court decision striking down a federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty.

At the same time, animal rights groups are calling on Congress to enact a new, more targeted law, to prevent trafficking in photos and videos depicting acts of severe animal cruelty, including so-called “crush” videos.

In striking down the 1999 Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, Chief Justice John Roberts said the law was substantially overbroad and could criminalize depictions of entirely lawful conduct such as hunting videos and magazines. The vote was 8 to 1.

“It is clear from the opinion and the size of the majority that the court heard the many voices concerned about this law,” said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, a free-speech advocacy group. “This law put at risk a broad range of newspaper articles, films, books, and images of hunting and wasn’t limited to dogfighting videos,” he said.

The 1999 law was aimed in part at outlawing the production and distribution of “crush videos” involving depictions of small animals being tortured and killed by women in high heel shoes. The videos were sold in an underground trade as part of a sexual fetish.

But the 1999 law also outlawed depictions of other acts of animal cruelty.

Free-speech advocates

The high court case stemmed from the arrest and conviction of a Virginia-based documentary producer named Robert Stevens who sold videos containing scenes of dogfights. Mr. Stevens said his videos were aimed at portraying the aggressive characteristics of pit bulls and the use of pit bulls in hunting. He argued that his documentaries were protected by the First Amendment.

A federal judge disagreed and a jury convicted him of selling banned depictions of dog fights in violation of the 1999 law. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

A federal appeals court overturned the conviction by declaring the underlying law unconstitutional. On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court also declared the law unconstitutional, but on different legal grounds.

In doing so, the high court rejected an attempt by the Obama administration to create a free speech balancing test that would weigh the value of the disputed speech against its societal costs to determine if it qualified for First Amendment protection…

[continues in the Christian Science Monitor]


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