Supreme Court Strikes Down Broad Ban on Speech

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Supreme CourtOver at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) blog, they lay out why Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v Stevens is good for comic book fans.  In a vote of 8-1 they struck down a 1999 law federal law that criminalizes the possession or sale of “depictions of animal cruelty,” saying that the statute is overbroad and it violates the First Amendment.  The CBLDF participated in the court fight as a member of Media Coalition’s amicus group.  The ruling helped protect First Amendment rights and free speech.

The Supreme Court felt the law addresses only portrayals of harmful acts, not the underlying conduct of the act.  This broad definition would potentially make videos of hunting, drawings of animal cruelty and much more illegal and punishable.  The law’s intent was to reign in “crush videos” which are fetish videos that depict people harming animals by stepping on them.  While we applaud the ruling we also condemn animal cruelty and these types of videos.  There are numerous laws on the books that directly handles animal cruelty.

The CBLDF went into more detail on why they opposed this law on their website:

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was part of an amicus brief filed with the court by The Media Coalition in July of last year in opposition to the government’s position. The brief criticized the breadth of the statute, and noted that “if the court were to agree that speech about violence can be banned in order to discourage violence – In this case, cruelty to animals – it would imperil not just a wide range of speech that engages with the violent world in which we live, but also speech concerning other conduct that may be viewed as undesirable and thus potentially subject to restriction.”

The case revolved around a Virginia resident who in 2004 was sentenced to 37 months for selling videos of pit bulls fighting each other and training to hunt wild boar.  Most of the footage in the video came from countries that have no laws about dogfighting such as Japan, or was more than 30 years old.

In 2008 the conviction was overturned in the 3rd circuit court of appeals and the Supreme Court agreed with that interpretation.  The government argued this was similar to child pornography which the court has ruled deserves no protection under the First amendment.  The difference is, child pornography is “intrinsically related to the underlying abuse” while animal cruelty is much broader and includes everything from animal fighting to hunting.