Updated: SCOTUS Says Animal Cruelty Videos are Protected

You know how we all love freedom of expression until somebody expresses themselves in a way we don’t like?  SCOTUS just wanted to remind us about that:

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law Tuesday aimed at banning videos that show graphic violence against animals, saying it violates the right to free speech.

The weirdest thing about this ruling, which I disagree with on ethical grounds, is that of the nine Supremes, only one ruled in favor of protecting the animals – Samuel Alito.  Go figure.

Added – I am not a legal scholar by any means and the ruling may be technically correct – I don’t know.  But I contend that animal cruelty videos should fall under the obscenity exceptions made for other types of “expression”.  The videos have no “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” to my mind.  Further, the videos at issue are those featuring live animals being tortured – not computer generated images of animals – therefore the acts depicted are crimes in and of themselves, like child pornography.

What do you think?  Weigh in, and mos def if you are a Constitutional scholar!

25 thoughts on “Updated: SCOTUS Says Animal Cruelty Videos are Protected

  1. I know it’s a bit of a slippery slope to keep classifying things as ‘ok’ to be restricted — but I feel like the point of the 1st Amendment has been completely lost.

    The point of the Amendment was that democracy could be had if citizens had the right, ability and freedom to criticize the government (something that had been lost in England). They weren’t concerned in protecting our right to pornography and animal cruelty videos. Our democracy would not be lost by losing the ability to profit from this.

    I realize it’s a slippery slope…but I agree with you that I would have liked to have seen the court group this in with child pornography.

  2. SCOTUS is correct. However, by the same token, it is my 1st Amendment right to state than anyone who enjoys animal cruelty videos, or produces them, is a low-life subhuman scumbag who should be dragged naked behind a NASCAR racer, over fifty miles of gravel road.

    1. Exactly right. One person’s education is another’s propaganda and the same rues have to apply to everyone. The government should not define subjects which cannot be discussed beyond its current restriction on the depiction of child abuse. No one can publish pictures of child abuse, even to support anti-abuse efforts. To have held otherwise in this case would require the prosecution of HSUS and Peta for the use of pictures portraying animal cruelty to raise funds.

  3. Looks like SCOTUS is spending too much time chatting with the likes of Palin & Beck. Apparently they’ve been infected with terminal stupid disease.

    They’ve given our elections over to big business and now it’s okay to torture animals and film it (thought this was an illegal act but guess I’m just out of touch with reality ) and then maybe they’ll move on to join church & state so we can be the christian terrorist country that all these psycho idiot-baggers so desperately want.

    Un-freaking Believable!

  4. Greymous,

    Keep in mind that SCOTUS does not exist to determine what is right or wrong, but to determine what the law says.

    And technically speaking, they probably, technically, got this right, although it’s frustrating.

    BTW, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Alito is the one that sided with the state on this and not with Stephens. As a general rule, very conservative judges tend to side with the lawmakers more often than liberal ones.

  5. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting the First Amendment. It does not matter whether you “like” what someone says or “agree” with what someone says. The Constitution of the United States states they have the right to say it. Just as it says people have the right to speak out and support animal “rights” – doesn’t make it right, just “protected speech”. It’s why you have the right to post here that you don’t agree with the decision – that is your right of free speech. Without the Constitution to protect that right, we could end up like other countries where daring to disagree with the government will put you in jail for life or you will just disappear. Much as I would love to see all the animal rights extremists disappear – I still believe they have a Constitutional right to flap their uneducated gums about topics where they have absolutely NO knowledge. Hurrah for the Constitution and the Supremes for protecting it. We have lost too many of our Constitutional rights to extremists in recent years – nice to see the tide turning.

  6. I will be the first to admit that I need to read the entire opinion which I will do. Having said that, my paw jerk reaction is that any video which portrays a criminal act is not an expression of free speech. Perhaps that’s oversimplified but that’s what I feel, aside from the legal analysis itself.

    1. However, that same video is evidence which can be used in a criminal prosecution of the people behind the making of the video – because it portrays a criminal act. Just as the morons who took video of themselves shooting homeless people with a paintball gun were convicted on the strength of the evidence they themselves created, so too can animal torturers be sent to prison based on their own video.

      Q: Whatcha in this prison for?
      A: Torturing puppies.
      Q: Bend over, bitch.

  7. Elizabeth,

    I’m all for protecting the first amendment — but I hardly think our right to free speech and democracy would change without the freedom to view dog fighting videos any more than it has been changed by not protecting child pornography or snuff films.

    I just wish things like due process were upheld with the same amount of vigor as the 1st Amendment.

  8. How people who have not read the original federal law,the briefs, the oral arguments, or the decision is clearly influencing how people are responding to this CORRECT 1st Amendment decision. HSUS would like everyone to think this law is about animal cruelty and only deals with videos, which is, unfortunately, how the media is spinning the result today. In fact, the law was so broad as to, frankly, be unconstitutional on its face. Under this law any filming or still depictions of legal hunting or fishing would have been included because animals are being “maimed” and “killed” by human beings and there is a profit motive in the distribution or broadcast on tv of the films or images. Chief Justice Roberts was correct in stating that we can’t be expected to take the government’s word on the subject that the law does not encompass these activities when the plain meaning reading of the law states the opposite. This was clearly HSUS sponsored legislation and typical of their creeping incrementalism to claim they are against “cruelty” (and that only they are the arbiters of what is deemed “cruelty”), and using the broad brush for public consumption and outrage of so-called “kitty snuff videos” as their supposed motive, but purposefully drafting language to sweep even legal use of animals for food into the definition for sanctions in the future. Additionally, while possession of depictions of animal fighting would have been illegal for the average citizen, it was brought out in oral arguments that HSUS could still use such depictions for their fund-raising campaigns, because they, presumably, are not-for-profit, despite the fact that very little of the millions of dollars they raise goes to care of real animals in shelters. Further, one of the films distributed by the plaintiff was filmed over thirty years ago in Japan, where dog fighting is a legal activity. While I certainly am not an advocate of dog fighting, it is a rather tenuous connection to state that these types of low-level films contribute to an increase in dog fighting or other animal fighting activities. And there certainly was no such credible evidence or proof of that contention brought forth in court. If there really is such a connection, then we need to immediately ban all films that show any and all criminal activities, produced by Hollywood or anywhere else. Finally, the plaintiff was sentenced to 37 months in prison, not for dog fighting, but for the possession and distribution of films. This sentence was longer than that given to Michael Vick who actively engaged in actual dog fighting activities.

  9. It isn’t just about dog fighting videos.. this “broad brush” ruling is correct in my opinion. This would have made all sorts of “animal cruelty” pictures, videos, and artwork prohibited. I have a print right now on my wall of a fox hunt.. with the fox being “tortured’ by being chased by hounds and hunters.. That in itself would have been prohibited by this statue.. HSUS SELLS dog fighting videos to law enforcement right now..they MAKE MONEY selling images of dog fights…. just another reason not to support them!! LOL
    Brent.. any time our free speech is curtailed we lose another freedom.. as passionate as we are about our pets.. this is more far reaching.. there are already laws to deal with dog fighters.. I agree with you though about due process.. we need MORE of that.

  10. I have to say I am feeling better about the merits of the decision. I know my reaction was definitely from the heart, not the head. On the issue of so-called animal rights groups using cruelty vids for “educational purposes” and such, I wouldn’t mind if they got banned too. I personally detest being subjected to footage of animals suffering because someone wants to educate me or raise money or whatever. I know cruelty exists, I do not want to see footage of it on my TV. But again, that’s a personal preference.

    Here’s my question:
    What would be a better law or would any law that would ban crush videos for example be too broad reaching?
    Would it be better to ask Congress to write a law that specifically names the types of cruelty not covered under free speech or to write a law specifying that “documentaries” can use cruelty footage but not others or…?

  11. come on people, don’t be stupid. The SC did NOT rule that it is “ok to torture animals.”
    There are plenty of laws against animal cruelty… though funny there hasn’t been a single prosecution, according to the WaPo story, against “crush” films because they may not actually exist. Dogfighters are prosecuted all the time. That’s why the SC ruled against the law.. it is way too broad and would be used against people not committing any crime.

    Can you all understand the difference between the ACT and the DEPICTION of an act?

    And don’t tell me that watching animal cruelty videos leads to animal cruelty. I don’t care. Prosecute the ACT, and don’t prevent me from viewing what I want.

    1. Emily – no one here said any of those things. Have you been following the discussion? Please feel welcome to join in and to answer the question on how we should move forward on this issue, if at all.

      Although I do *feel in my heart* that one of the reasons animal cruelty videos are bad is because they promote a culture of violence against animals, SCOTUS has been clear on that issue – you can’t make something illegal because it might inspire someone to do something illegal. So I leave that as a personal feeling, not a basis for rule of law.

  12. I think I understand the decision, and I reluctantly agree with it. However, without a better law in place it sounds to me like it is now legal to sell videos of animals being stomped to death as a sexual fetish.

    I’m a big 1st Amendment booster, but I draw the line at animal torture and people profitting from it. I hope they get new laws in place ASAP.

    Also, compare the court’s reverence for the 1st Amendment in this decision to it’s disregard for it in the “Bong Hits for Jesus” case.

  13. LOL.. that is what the remote is for.. change the channel or turn it off!!! that’s what I do.. however we cannot turn off our freedom ever one lost is one we will not get back.. and if i hear the word BAN one more time I will scream.. AHHHHHHHHHHHH ( me screaming) years ago ( not so long ago) banning something was a HUGE deal.. now it is common place to see things being banned every hour of every day in order to “change things”.. every ban makes it that much harder for people to know what they can and cannot do within the law.. please see this quote:
    Ayn Rand quotes:
    “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”..
    and then think about it.. next time you say you want something BANNED..

  14. required reading in my high school…and even if you don;t agree with all of her writings.. certainly you have to give credence to this one.. especially if you have been involved fighting Breed Specific legislation or anti pet laws..
    No one has been able to produce an actual “crush video”.. certainly one was not shown to the SC…I wonder if it is some sort of “urban myth”.

  15. Yup, as written, the nauseating ads in which Nina van Horne tells me to send muneyz while images of abused animals are banned speech.

    Photos I took of legal hunting in California — illegal to show them in states where that form of hunting isn’t provided for by law — because the prey species doesn’t exist.

    Et cetera.

    This law was a grotesque stomp on the First Amendment.

    FYI, the logic behind criminalizing the distribution and consumption of child pornography is that the act of viewing the abuse itself further assaults the victims of the crime — essentially forever. A child who was raped in front of a video camera is further victimized whenever that crime is presented for the entertainment of additional pervs — even when that child has grown to adulthood.

    Animals do not — cognitively cannot — suffer from that kind of psychic assault.

  16. “sounds to me like it is now legal to sell videos of animals being stomped to death as a sexual fetish”

    The blame for that lies squarely with the Congress for passing a blatantly unconstitutional law and the President for signing same. I’m fed up with governments passing “feel good” laws without even a constitutional sniff test and most of them have law degrees so it’s utterly inexcusable.

    Societal change is a miserably slow process and very frustrating to those ahead of the curve but passing bad laws only slows things down. Just as Prohibition drove drinking underground and actually increased alcoholism, poorly drafted laws on animal cruelty or even too severe of changes too fast will actually harm more animals than are helped.

    When it comes to fundamental rights, like free speech, the bar for interfering is high. I’m working on my own blog entry (In Defense of Klan and Country) that will be broader than just this one decision but we simply must be willing to protect the rights of everyone or this country loses; we lose the very foundation of what makes us unique and special, what other countries look up to and seek to emulate.

    If enough people feel strongly about something in the Constitution being wrong, there is a way to change it by amendment. However, letting the government pick and choose what to follow or ignore would be a really bad idea.

  17. The ones who voted in favor of these cruel, murderous acts being depicted, are scumbags who care nothing about justice, nor ethics, nor life..

    Maybe THEY need to watch a video of THEIR loved ones being crushed by high heels worn by a sumo wrestler, in order to grow a f*cking brain that is evolved enough to create the neurotransmitters necessary for clear, compassionate thought, which tells them that such acts are murder, and should not be allowed to be depicted online, possibly encouraging other whores in high heels, and other mental midgets who may be watching the videos to commit such demented acts.

    Supreme Nitwits.

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