Supreme Court Declares Animal Cruelty Statute Violates First Amendment
By Debbie Rosenbaum – Edited by Chinh Vo
United States v. Stevens, No. 08–769 (U.S., April 20, 2010)
The Supreme Court affirmed the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which had held that 18 U.S.C. § 48, a federal statute criminalizing the commercial production, sale, or possession of depictions of cruelty to animals, was an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and did not serve a compelling governmental interest.
In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Virginia man who sold dog-fighting videos, holding that the First Amendment does not allow the government to criminalize whole categories of speech and expression that are deemed undesirable. The Court said that 18 U.S.C. § 48 was too broad because while some depictions of animal cruelty were appropriately exempted from the statute, other speech that should be protected, such as “most hunting videos” and photos of out-of-season hunting, was not.
Briefs and relevant court documents are available at the First Amendment Center. NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times provide overviews of the case. The Volokh Conspiracy and the Constitutional Law Prof Law Blog analyze the decision. (more…)