Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Can ban on crush videos withstand the Supreme Court?

Less than a decade ago, Congress outlawed so-called "crush videos" - depictions of people harming, and usually killing, small animals. In so doing, lawmakers took the unusual step of creating another category of speech that is considered to have no social value at all, and therefore, is completely unprotected by the constitution.

While anyone reading this blog would likely agree with that sentiment, well, of course, others don't. Who, you ask? For one, Robert Stevens. The case of Stevens v. State is winding its way up through the court system. Stevens was convicted of selling videos of dogfights, but the Third Circuit reversed the conviction, holding that the ban violated Stevens' First Amendment rights.

The Solicitor General asked the Supreme Court to hear the case last month. No word yet if it will. In the meantime, read more in this New York Times piece by Adam Liptak.


cambstreasurer said...

Why can't it be treated as analogous to child pornography? I'd be (fairly) happy with a law that permitted "no animals were harmed in producing this film" simulations of cruelty but criminalised making money from films in which animals were actually tortured (with suitable caveats to protect activists filming battery farms and so on).

Chris said...

I believe if child pornography bans can withstand a constitutional challenge, animal crush videos should too. On the other hand, my libertarian streak wonders if prohibitions on possession in general (as opposed to production or ingestion) are overly invasive by amounting to thought crimes.

cambstreasurer said...

I don't think the "thought crime" argument stands up if money changes hands, because the viewers/possessors are providing the market that fuels the abuse.

Chris said...

Monetary exchange is not a necessary condition for possession. But insofar as it is, you have a good point since there's a greater actus reas component beyond merely "not" getting rid of something.

Johnson said...

I think that distribution of these videos will make people more sensitive to animal suffering in the meat industry.

Given the level of torture in the meat industry, it does not seem like there is a pressing need to suppress the first amendment.