Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Banning Animal Cruelty Videos

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Calling it a free speech issue, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning videos showing graphic violence against animals.

In an 8-1 ruling Tuesday, the justices rejected the government’s argument that certain categories of free speech should be weighed against societal costs, The Washington Post reported. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, called the law overly broad and said it was not allowed by the First Amendment. 

“The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits,” Roberts wrote. “The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.”

The 1999 law was aimed at forbidding sales of fetish “crush videos,” which depict small animals being crushed to death by women with stiletto heels or their bare feet.

But the case, United States v. Stevens, had nothing to do with crush videos. The law was used to prosecute Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Va., who was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for videos he made about pit bull fighting.

Animal rights groups and 26 states had joined the Obama administration in support of the statute.

Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter.

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