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April 20, 2010

The HSUS Calls on Congress to Enact New Law Restricting Sale of Videos of Illegal Acts of Animal Cruelty

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down law, but offers pathway for statute to forbid such conduct

WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States expressed its disappointment at an opinion issued by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a controversial appellate court decision throwing out a key federal anti-cruelty law as unconstitutional, but expressed optimism that Congress will be allowed to draft a more narrowly crafted statute to crack down on the sale of videos showing illegal acts of animal cruelty, including crushing of small animals for sexual gratification and dogfighting.

The statute at issue — the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, originally introduced by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1999 — banned the interstate sale of videos of illegal and often extreme acts of animal cruelty. An HSUS investigation had previously uncovered an underground subculture of animal crush videos in which puppies, kittens and other small animals are stomped, smothered and pierced to death, often by women wearing high-heeled shoes.

The Court's opinion in U.S. v. Stevens, the Supreme Court held that the Act was "overbroad" and might capture some depictions of acts that are illegal but not "cruel" in the common usage of the term. At the same time, the Court acknowledged the "long history" of animal protection laws in the United States and left open the question of whether a more targeted law aimed at "extreme animal cruelty" would be constitutional.

Justice Samuel Alito dissented, noting that the majority has struck down "a valuable statute that was enacted not to suppress speech, but to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty — in particular, the creation and commercial exploitation of crush videos, a form of depraved entertainment that has no social value." Justice Alito explained that "the animals used in crush videos are living creatures that experience excruciating pain. Our society has long banned such cruelty, which is illegal throughout the country."

Before the law was enacted in 1999, there were approximately 3,000 of these horrific videos available in the marketplace, selling for up to $300 apiece but after Congress enacted the law with overwhelming bipartisan support, that market all but disappeared. However, since a federal appellate court declared the law unconstitutional in July 2008, crush videos have once again proliferated on the Internet.

"The Supreme Court's decision gives us a clear pathway to enact a narrower ban on the sale of videos depicting malicious acts of cruelty, including animal crush videos and dogfighting," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "Congress should act swiftly to make sure the First Amendment is not used as a shield for those committing barbaric acts of cruelty, and then peddling their videos on the Internet."

The HSUS filed a "friend of the court" brief alongside the Attorneys General of 26 States and asked the High Court to ensure that animal fighters and those attempting to profit from abhorrent animal cruelty were not able to hide behind the protection of the First Amendment. Despite Tuesday's setback, The HSUS remains optimistic that Congress will work quickly to provide law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on traffickers of crush videos by drafting a new Depiction Law that complies with the Court's decision.

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Follow The HSUS on Twitter. See our work for animals on your iPhone by searching "HumaneTV" in the App Store.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

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