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Supreme Court animal cruelty ruling: All sides find positives

Free-speech advocates say the Supreme Court protected the First Amendment. Animal-rights advocates say it showed how Congress could pass a new anti-animal cruelty law.

In this March 17, 2010 photo, a Humane Society police officer with Pennsylvania SPCA poses for a photograph with a dog recovered from a suspected dogfighting operation. The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a law designed to stop depictions of animal cruelty was overbroad.

Matt Rourke/AP

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Free speech advocates praised Tuesday’s US Supreme Court decision striking down a federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty.

At the same time, animal rights groups are calling on Congress to enact a new, more targeted law, to prevent trafficking in photos and videos depicting acts of severe animal cruelty, including so-called "crush" videos.

In striking down the 1999 Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, Chief Justice John Roberts said the law was substantially overbroad and could criminalize depictions of entirely lawful conduct such as hunting videos and magazines. The vote was 8 to 1.

“It is clear from the opinion and the size of the majority that the court heard the many voices concerned about this law,” said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, a free-speech advocacy group. “This law put at risk a broad range of newspaper articles, films, books, and images of hunting and wasn’t limited to dogfighting videos,” he said.

The 1999 law was aimed in part at outlawing the production and distribution of “crush videos” involving depictions of small animals being tortured and killed by women in high heel shoes. The videos were sold in an underground trade as part of a sexual fetish.

But the 1999 law also outlawed depictions of other acts of animal cruelty.

Free-speech advocates


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