Opinion Brief

Watching dog fights: A constitutional right?

The Supreme Court has struck down a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty, citing free-speech grounds. Defensible or deplorable?

In what is being called a forceful ruling in favor of free speech, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a federal law making it a crime to sell videos or photos of animals being illegally killed or tortured. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., speaking for the 8-to-1 majority, said the First Amendment does not allow Congress to criminalize whole categories of speech, no matter how distasteful. But Justice Samuel Alito, the lone dissenter, said that declaring the law unconstitutional would only spur more videos depicting animal cruelty. Did the court strike a blow for freedom, or for pet abusers? (Watch a PBS discussion about the controversial decision)

This was a win for free speech: No civilized person wants to watch people kill dogs and cats, says Yael T. Abouhalkah in the Kansas City Star. But we're on a slippery slope when we start giving the government "all-encompassing powers" to trample the constitutional right to free expression just because it doesn't like what some people have to say. Animal cruelty is horrible, but stifling free speech is worse.
"Supreme Court's animal cruelty ruling a victory for free speech"

The court struck a blow — against animals: The court's decision needlessly endangered helpless animals, says Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle in The Huffington Post. The Supreme Court "got hung up" worrying that a law targeting dog-fighting and sexually violent animal videos might be used against sellers of hunting and bullfighting videos. But if we can't criminalize images that clearly exploit animal cruelty, we have little hope of stopping it.
"Reaction to Supreme Court ruling on animal cruelty law"

This debate isn't over: The Supreme Court hasn't had the last word, says Amir Efrati in The Wall Street Journal. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R., CA) is promising to introduce a bill focusing on one of the main targets of the now-defunct 1999 law — "crush" videos of women in high heels or barefoot crushing chicks or other small animals to death, for viewers' sexual gratification. The market for these videos "dried up" after the video ban went into effect, so proponents are determined to keep the heat on.
"Legislative branch responds after Supremes’ animal ruling"

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