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Animal Cruelty and the First Amendment


The Supreme Court today announced its decision in United States v. Stevens, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-769.pdf.  I have not yet read the opinion.  The Wall Street Journal gives a quick summary:

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty, voting 8-1 that the measure violated the First Amendment.

 The law was inspired by sadistic "crush" videos, where women kill chicks or mice, but was written far more broadly to outlaw depictions of any animal cruelty that is unlawful.

 Although the law included exceptions for serious journalistic or artistic works, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said the measure stretched too far....

 Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter. "The harm caused by the underlying criminal acts greatly outweighs any trifling value that the depictions might be thought to possess," he wrote of the dog-fighting videos.

My quick reaction is (1) I agree with Alito, and (2) it would appear a more narrowly worded statute would survive.  The notion that depictions of this sort could have any redeeming value is theoretically viable but actually far-fetched.  Although it might be heretical for a conservative to say so, we can worry too much about keeping the law stainless while the culture descends into filth.  A culture that cannot say NO to this behavior, and mean it with criminal penalties, is a culture in big trouble. 



I am not a first amendment scholar but I fail to see the connection between freedom of speech and these reprehensible depictions of animal cruelty. If it can not be considered art or journalism, where is the social value that would invoke a freedom of speech argument?

Further, if dog-fighting is illegal, how is a depiction of same lawful?

Mr. Otis, I could not agree with you more.

Criminal laws should set bare minimum standards for what constitutes acceptable behavior in society. In other words, if you can't conform your behavior such that you're not breaking a criminal law, you really deserve to be out of society (i.e., in jail). If the behavior outlawed by the depictions of animal cruelty statute at issue in this case does not meet that standard, I don't know what does.

I sincerely hope Congress takes another shot at drafting a depictions of animal cruelty statute that will pass muster with the Court. In the meantime, having read both the opinion and the dissent, I just have to say that Justice Alito is my hero.

notablogger --

Be of good cheer. I have to think that Congress will re-draft the statute promptly. Refined language should pass unanimously. I am suspicious of calls for "bi-partisanship," but this time there really will be bi-partisanship.

Indeed, if there cannot be bi-partisan agreement for something like this, there also cannot be bi-partisan agreement with statements such as "the sky is blue on a sunny day" or "many people enjoy eating pizza."

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