Cruelty in the Court

PetMD Editorial
Updated: May 16, 2017
Published: April 29, 2010
Share this:

The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Protecting Depictions of Animal Cruelty


April 29, 2010

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 on a repeal of the 1999 Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, which outlawed the portrayal of animal abuse for profit. The law was originally instilled in order to put an end to the production of animal crush videos, clips that cater to people who gain sexual excitement by watching small animals get trampled to death by women bare-footed or in high-heeled shoes.

A revision of the Act was called for when a Virginia man by the name of Robert J. Stevens was convicted to prison back in 2005 for profiting from the sale of videos showing graphic depictions of dog-fighting. He appealed his 37-month sentence to the Supreme Court, claiming that the Act, which punished anyone who "creates, sells or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty," was too broad, and that in his particular case, his freedom of speech was protected by the First Amendment.

Animal lovers are shocked by the Supreme Court’s decision. Some claim that depictions of violence against animals are too terrible to be protected by the First Amendment, as in the case of child pornography. As the sole dissenter Chief Justice Samuel Alito pointed out, "The videos record the commission of violent criminal acts, and it appears that these crimes are committed for the sole purpose of creating the videos." The question now becomes: How are animals to be protected when violent depictions of dog fighting recorded for the purpose of being marketed are deemed an expression of free speech?

The day after the ruling, a bill (H.R. 5092) was proposed to narrow down on the original 1999 law’s language and deal specifically with the crush videos the Act was intended for. Karin Bennett, a writer for PETA’s official blog, seems hopeful, stating that they "fully expect the Court to uphold a narrower federal statute barring distribution of vile videos that depict indisputable cruelty to animals."

However, until that bill is passed, the Web has been repopulated with crush videos, as they are for the time being no longer prohibited by law. Lawmakers must learn to be precise in their words, so that they should never be considered "too broad," and so that animals are never left unprotected and subject to cruelty.