5th Circuit Upholds Ban on Crush Videos

Seth Victor

Four years ago the US Supreme Court overruled Congress’s attempt to regulate “crush videos,” stating that the law was an impermissible, over-broad regulation of free speech. For more analysis of the decision, see here. Though the decision was distressing, it did not herald an end of attempts to regulate that particular form of animal cruelty; Congress quickly passed an amended version of the law, one that has yet to be tested before the Supreme Court.

Last week the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated criminal charges in the case of US v. Richards for video of animals being tortured to death by a suggestively dressed woman, holding that images of animals killed for sexual gratification are not protected forms of speech, and are in fact “obscene.” Obscenity is the key to the law; obscene speech does not have the same protections as common speech, and can be regulated. Additionally, the 5th Circuit rejected an argument that the law is unconstitutional because it unfairly targets a narrow type of obscenity (here, animal cruelty), holding that particular categories of obscenity may be targeted based on their socially harmful secondary effects.

This is the first legal test of the amended law, and animal advocates have to be happy with the direction the case took at the appellate level. The court held that the law does serve a “significant interest” of preventing violence against animals, and is “reasonably tailored” to meet that interest. The 2010 version does not apply to the slaughter of animals for food, hunting, or agricultural husbandry practices, which helped it survive the “over-broad” challenge. If the Supreme Court ends up granting certiorari (it’s unclear at this point if the defendants will push it that far), it will be very interesting to see how the 5th Circuit decision holds up against US v. Stevens.

 

 

 

 

A Battle Won, Perhaps

Gillian Lyons

Following up on last week’s post, on Monday, September 27th Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced legislation, an amendment to H.R. 5566, which will prohibit the sale of crush videos, meaning any film, video, or recording that depicts live animals being crushed, drowned, suffocated or impaled in a manner that would violate a criminal prohibition under Federal or State law. The good news is that a day later, on September 28th, this legislation was met with unanimous approval by the entire Senate.  While the legislation will now need to be reapproved by the House (which is very likely, due to the original H.R. 5566’s 416 Ayes to 3 Nays), this is a big step in infusing strength back into 18 U.S.C. § 48 after the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Stevens.  Continue reading

Reconsidering Crush Videos

Gillian Lyons

After the Supreme Court struck down 18 U.S.C. § 48 in United States v. Stevens for having too broad a focus (click here for Professor Cassuto’s post-mortem of that decision), there was a general feeling of dismay in the animal law community due, in part, to the fact that the law strove to make the sale of crush videos illegal.

However, in response to the Court’s decision, Congress acted quickly and in June 2010 H.R. 5566: Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Animal Crush Videos Act of 2010 was introduced.  H.R. 5566 amends 18 U.S.C. § 48 to give the Act a narrower focus: prohibiting the sale of crush videos, meaning any film, video, or recording that depicts live animals being crushed, drowned, suffocated or impaled in a manner that would violate a criminal prohibition under Federal or State law. The bill was resoundingly approved with 416 Ayes and 3 Nays.           Continue reading

Stevens Update — The Content-Based Restriction Debate Continues to Swirl

David Cassuto


Congress has introduced a new bill aimed at suppressing crush videos.  In the meantime, the Court will review another content-based law  — this one aimed at restricting violent video game sales to children.  One wonders how the Stevens precedent will figure into deciding whether this California law is constitutional.  More soon.

Lust

Seth Victor

In college I learned a song. The lyrics of that song are largely unpublishable, but I will share the refrain, which goes, “Bestiality’s best boys, Bestiality’s best (something unmentionable about a wallaby)!” It was sung in jest, by both guys and gals, and the point was (I hope) to horrify and not to instruct. I admit I laughed and sang along. A sense of humor goes a long way in keeping ones sanity, and I know the song was only part of a long and raunchy college tradition. Now that I recall those days of endless road trips, listening to my colleagues tone deaf voices proclaim what wonderful sexual acts would befall a myriad of animals, I wonder what sketchy part of my university’s tradition required immortalization in such verse.

Sex is still taboo in our society, and more risqué sexual proclivities are still in the closet, so to speak, though they are not as much of a sub-culture as some people think. Animal sex, with other animals, is not taboo. From dogs in the park to the Discovery Channel, you can watch animal porn to your heart’s content. But is it porn? That depends on the viewer. Porn is sexually stimulating, erotic, and is viewed for some sexual goal. If you tune in to the mating habits of the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock (I couldn’t make that up) to further your understanding of genetic diversity, you’re a scientist. If your heart starts racing, be careful. I’m being a bit ridiculous, but when you consider that U.S. v. Stevens refuses to apply the same exemptions to the First Amendment that were extended to depictions of child pornography in U.S. v. Williams, while in the same stroke giving the go-ahead for crush videos, it isn’t absurd to wonder where we drawn the line when it comes to human with animal sex acts.                 Continue reading

U.S. v. Stevens, The Post-Mortem

David Cassuto

There’s little good here.  In Stevens, the Supreme Court struck down a law that aimed at and succeeded in curbing the market for crush videos and other animal mutilation.  To be fair, the law was seriously flawed.  But the Court’s analysis is worse.  However, the holding could have been worse still, so I am at least a little relieved as well as disappointed.

18 U.S.C. s. 48 banned depictions of cruelty “in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed” if that conduct violates federal or state law “where the creation, sale, or possession takes place.”  It exempted depictions possessing “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.” 

Mr. Stevens operated a website called “Dogs of Velvet and Steel.”   He marketed videos of dog fighting, of dogs attacking pigs, and other similar works.  One would be hard pressed to find any redeeming social value to his wares and the Court makes no attempt to do so.  In fact it spends very little time analyzing the law as it relates to Mr. Stevens.   It instead focuses on the law’s potential applications to other cases not currently before it.  As a result, the opinion runs far into the weeds.   Continue reading

Can U.S. v Stevens Bite Back?

Irina Knopp

barking_cartoon_dogI am currently working on a paper that looks at the case, arguments for and possible consequences of U.S. v Stevens. Recently, I’ve found several articles online suggesting that the statute in the case thought to promote animal rights in America could possibly hurt animal rights groups.

Rory Eastburg, author of the article “High Court to Consider Categorical Ban on Cruelty Images,” warns that animal rights groups should be very careful what they wish for because such groups often use film and images to expose the animal abuses that go on and the vague exemption for serious content in 18 U.S.C. § 48 may get them in trouble.

He states, “Many if not all films made by such groups falls squarely within the terms of the statute because they are recording unlawful treatment of animals.” Eastburg fails to explain how animal rights group videos/images would fall under the interstate commerce element of 18 U.S.C. § 48.

Continue reading