NPR logo Supreme Ct Animal-Cruelty Video Ban Ruling No Surprise


Supreme Ct Animal-Cruelty Video Ban Ruling No Surprise

In striking down on Tuesday a federal ban on videos that show animal cruelty, the Supreme Court did what many expected it to do after observing oral arguments in the case in October. The Supreme Court ruled against the law in an 8-1 vote.

Here's what we reported in October, based on the reporting of NPR's Supreme Court watcher Nina Totenberg:

Based on the pattern of questioning by justices on both sides of the court's ideological spectrum, it appears the law that makes it illegal to have or sell photos or videos depicting animal cruelty is likely to be struck down.

The high court ruled the prohibition to be unconstitutional on grounds that it was overly broad.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the law was "substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment."

The law was meant to prohibit a particularly gruesome genre of video called "crush videos" in which small animals are crushed by women wearing high heels, a sexual fetish practice many people find offensive on a number of levels. The particular case that made its way to the Supreme Court was about videos that showed pit bulls fighting other dogs or attacking animals like pigs.

Roberts mentions in his opinion that because of the statute's sweeping language, even bull-fighting documentaries could be banned.

Justice Samuel Alito was the only dissenter. He wrote:

Instead of applying the doctrine of overbreadth, I would vacate the decision below and instruct the Court of Appeals on remand to decide whether the videos that respondent sold are constitutionally protected. If the question of overbreadth is to be decided, however, I do not think the present record supports the Court's conclusion that (section) 48 bans a substantial quantity of protected speech.