Supreme Court strikes down ban on animal cruelty video sales

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Apr 23, 2010
By dvm360.com staff
Washington -- The sale of videos depicting animal cruelty and torture for entertainment purposes no longer is illegal, according to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 8-1 ruling, issued April 20, struck down a decade-old anti-cruelty law on the basis of free speech. The 1999 law was meant to ban the sale of "crush videos," which depict women crushing small animals to death to appeal to certain fetishes. The ruling also overturned the conviction of a Virginia man who sold dog-fighting videos to federal agents.

Though the law had popular support, the Supreme Court opinion states that the law was "too broad" and rarely used. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote in the court's decision that the First Amendment protects all free speech -- not just that which has desirable or social value -- while adding that lawmakers still have the ability to outlaw actual acts of animal cruelty. But Justice Samuel Alito points out in his dissention that the acts depicted in the videos and photos made illegal by the 1999 law often appeared to be performed solely for the sake of the video or photo.

Animal welfare organizations already are speaking out against the court’s opinion.

"In this 8-1 ruling, only Justice Alito got it right," says Dr. Elliot Katz, a veterinarian and president of In Defense of Animals. "This law was intended to prohibit some of the most depraved forms of animal cruelty, and it worked. The court’s decision tells young people that vicious cruelty like dog fighting can be fun, entertaining and profitable. This goes against the efforts of so many humane societies and millions of caring people across this country."