Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
The Supreme Court, with only one dissenting vote, on Tuesday struck down a federal ban on videos that show graphic violence against animals. The ruling cheered free speech advocates, but it raised concerns that more animals will be harmed.
The justices threw out the criminal conviction of Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Va., who was sentenced to three years in prison for videos he made about pit bull fights.
The law was enacted in 1999 to limit Internet sales of so-called crush videos, which appeal to a certain sexual fetish by showing women crushing to death small animals with their bare feet or high-heeled shoes.
The videos virtually disappeared once the measure became law, the government argued. The Bush administration used the law for the first time when it indicted Stevens in 2004.
All 50 states have laws against animal cruelty, but the federal statute targeted the videos because it has been difficult to prosecute people who take part in violence against animals with a camera rolling, but not showing their faces.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said the law goes too far. He suggested that a measure limited to crush videos might be valid.
A lawmaker said he was moving immediately on Roberts’ suggestion. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., said he is introducing legislation as early as Tuesday that would focus narrowly on crush videos. He said the bill would have bipartisan support and noted that the 1999 law passed both houses of Congress overwhelmingly and quickly worked.
“There aren’t too many thing you pass around here that actually work as well as this has,” Gallegly said.
In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito, a dog owner himself, said the harm animals suffer in dogfights is enough to sustain the law. Alito’s dog, Zeus, a springer spaniel, is sometimes seen around the court being walked by Alito’s wife, Martha-Ann.
Alito also said the ruling probably will spur new crush videos because it has “the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos.”
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said hundreds of crush videos appeared on the Internet after a federal appeals court ruled in Stevens’ favor in 2008. “This court ruling is going to accelerate that trend. That’s why it’s critical that the Congress take action,” he said.
Other animal rights groups, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and 26 states also joined the Obama administration in support of the law. The government sought a ruling that treated videos showing animal cruelty like child pornography — that is, not entitled to constitutional protection.
But Roberts said the law could be read to allow the prosecution of the producers of films about hunting. And he scoffed at the administration’s assurances that it would only apply the law to depictions of extreme cruelty.
“But the First Amendment protects against the government,” Roberts said. “We would not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the government promised to use it responsibly.”
Free speech advocates praised Tuesday’s ruling.
“Speech is protected whether it’s popular or unpopular, harmful or unharmful,” said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition. The group submitted a brief siding with Stevens on behalf of booksellers, documentary film makers, theater owners, writers groups and others.
Stevens ran a business and Web site that sold videos of pit bull fights. He is among a handful of people prosecuted under the animal cruelty law, none of them for making crush videos. He noted in court papers that his sentence was 14 months longer than professional football player Michael Vick’s prison term for running a dogfighting ring.
A federal judge rejected Stevens’ First Amendment claims, but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled in his favor.
The administration persuaded the high court to intervene, but for the second time this year, the justices struck down a federal law on free speech grounds. In January, the court invalidated parts of a 63-year-old law aimed at limiting corporate and union involvement in political campaigns.
The case is U.S. v. Stevens, 08-769.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)