Animal Cruelty,  Elton Gallegly,  Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court to Review Controversial Ruling Striking Down Federal Animal Cruelty Law

Elton Gallegly February 2008

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, second left, stands with US Congress members Representative Jane Harman, left, Senator Jon Kyl, center, Representative Elton Gallegly, second right, and Senator Sam Brownback, during their meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, Feb. 18, 2008

This bill which outlawed “animal crush” videos was overturned last year by a federal appeals court and was sponsored by Flap’s Congressman, Elton Gallegly. The United Sates Supreme Court today granted review of the case and will do so in the Fall Term of the court.

The Supreme Court will consider reviving a federal law banning the sale of images of animal cruelty. A federal appeals court said the law illegally restricts this form of free speech.

The justices said Monday that they will look at the decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that also overturned the conviction of Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Va. In 2005, Stevens was convicted and sentenced to 37 months in prison for selling videos of pit bull fights.

The appeals court described one video as including a “gruesome depiction of a pit bull attacking the lower jaw of a domestic farm pig.”

The government says it has a “compelling interest in protecting animals from wanton acts of cruelty.”

The Humane Society of the United States, backing the government, says that the 1999 law played a critical role in stopping the spread of so-called crush videos that show women crushing to death small animals, often with their bare feet or high-heeled shoes.

The case will be argued in the fall.

The case is U.S. v. Stevens, 08-769.

The United States Supreme Court will decide whether there should be a new exception to the First amendment to apply to the portrayals of animal cruelty.

The new First Amendment case the Justices will be hearing next fall or winter involves the constitutionality of a 1999 federal law, passed by Congress in an attempt to curb animal cruelty.  The en banc Third Circuit Court struck down the law as written, thus barring its use in any case no matter what the specific facts.

Although the law has been in effect for ten years, it was used for the first time to prosecute Robert J. Stevens of Pittsville, Va., for selling videotapes of fighting among dogs of the Pit Bull breed.   He was convicted of three counts of violating the 1999 law, and was sentenced to 37 months in prison.

In nullifying the law, the Circuit Court refused to create a new exception to the First Amendment to apply to portrayals of animal cruelty. It noted that the Supreme Court “last declared an entire category of speech unprotected” by the Amendment in 1982 (in New York v. Ferber, involving child pornography).  The Circuit Court rejected a government argument that the depiction of animal cruelty was analogous to the depiction of child pornography.

In taking the case on to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department argued that the 1999 law is narrow in scope, applying only to a “particularly harmful class of speech,” only when that is done for commercial gain, and only when the particular depiction has “no serious societal value.”

It may be a close call for the court, but Flap does not really see any societal value in permitting animal cruelty or “animal crush” videos. As long as the decision is narrow, there should be no danger to our constitutionally protected free speech.

Stay tuned……

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One Comment

  • Meghan

    The Humane Society of the United States’ president and CEO commented on this case today on his blog. He says the federal law is “an essential complement to the state anti-cruelty and anti-animal fighting laws, which alone do not equip law enforcement with the tools to stamp out the national and international traffic in the videos that are anonymously produced and staged for the sole purpose of inflicting cruelty. The sale of these videos is often the only public act that law enforcement can identify, and the revenue from the sale of these videos enables even more criminal behavior.”