The Anti-Man-Eat-Dog Act


This week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a First Amendment case involving a 1999 federal law that criminalizes production and distribution of videos depicting animal cruelty. The law was prompted by outrage over "crush" videos in which women step on small, furry animals in a manner that sexually arouses what I'm hoping is a very tiny percentage of porn fans. When Bill Clinton signed the bill, he instructed the Justice Department to focus on "wanton cruelty to animals designed to appeal to a prurient interest in sex." Yet all of the prosecutions so far have involved dog fights, footage of which is banned by the law even if the actual fights took place in places (such as Japan) where they are legal. Indeed, the ban covers videos of anything that now qualifies as illegal treatment of animals in the jurisdiction where they are sold, potentially including records of Spanish bullfighting, Russian bear baiting, Louisiana cockfighting, or even hunting out of season. The law exempts material with "serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value," opening the door to subjective, arbitrary, and unpredictable applications. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit found the law unconstitutional in 2007. If the Supreme Court reverses that decision, it will be creating a new category of speech that is outside the protection of the First Amendment.

The 3rd Circuit's ruling is here (PDF). I noted the case in January.