The Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to strike down a law banning the sale of graphic animal cruelty videos has won the support of First Amendment advocates and the ire of animal protection groups.
Supreme Court justices, by an 8-1 vote, ruled the federal law was “substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment.”
The head of an organization that defends the First Amendment applauded Tuesday’s ruling, saying, “Speech is protected whether it’s popular or unpopular, harmful or unharmful.”
But the president of the Humane Society of the United States, who emphasized his organization is a “devoted defender of the First Amendment,” said no one should be able to profit from “malicious, illegal, and violent acts.”
Tuesday’s high court ruling also threw out the conviction of a Virginia man sentenced to three years in prison under the law for selling dogfighting videos. Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Virginia, appealed his conviction, saying it violated his right of free speech. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia tossed out Stevens’ conviction and ruled the 1999 law was unconstitutional.
The Department of Justice later appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.
The 11-year-old law at the center of this debate—the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act—banned the interstate sale of videos depicting illegal and extreme acts of animal cruelty, including dog fighting and “crush videos.” Those are “sexual gratification” videos in which puppies, kittens, and other small animals are crushed, smothered, and pierced to death—often by women wearing high-heeled shoes.