Animals

Congress Tortures the Constitution To Obtain Permission for a Federal Animal Cruelty Law

Where does Congress get the authority to redundantly criminalize abuse of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles?

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Yesterday the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that would make "animal crushing" a federal felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act exemplifies the belief that Congress has free-ranging authority to address anything that bothers its members, regardless of whether it is already addressed by state law and regardless of whether it plausibly fits within their enumerated powers.

The PACT Act counterintuitively defines "animal crushing" to include not only crushing but also burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement, or any other action that causes "serious bodily injury." But in case you're worried that stepping on a cockroach or a spider could expose you to federal prosecution, the PACT Act applies only to mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

The case for a federal statute criminalizing animal cruelty consists mostly of the observation that there currently is no such law. Since every state already has an animal cruelty law and the republic has managed to survive for 243 years without a federal version, you may not find that argument persuasive.

But perhaps you did not realize that "abused animals are sometimes taken across state lines," as Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, points out. According to Amundson (as paraphrased by The New York Times), interstate transportation "complicat[es] the prosecution of such cases."

The Times adds that "there is the issue of resources," an argument that could be used both for and against pretty much any federal statute that duplicates state laws. Supporters of the PACT Act also note that animal abuse is often a precursor to violence against humans, although it's not clear what that has to do with the purported need for a federal law.

If the public policy case for the PACT Act is fuzzy, the constitutional justification is even harder to understand. The bill applies to "animal crushing in or
affecting interstate or foreign commerce," which the Constitution gives Congress the power to "regulate." The power to regulate interstate commerce, of course, is not the same as the power to regulate anything that can be said to affect interstate commerce, although you could be forgiven for concluding otherwise after reading the Supreme Court's precedents in this area.

Even based on the Court's absurdly broad reading of the Commerce Clause, it is rather mysterious how prosecutors and judges are supposed to decide whether boiling a bunny, flaying a frog, or waterboarding a weasel "affects" interstate commerce enough to invoke that provision. The most important argument against the bill—one that apparently did not occur to a single legislator—is that Congress simply does not have the constitutional authority to broadly criminalize such actions, however abhorrent they may be.

The roots of the PACT Act can be traced to United States v. Stevens, the 2010 case in which the Supreme Court overturned a 1999 law aimed at "crush videos," which cater to a highly specific sexual fetish involving high heels deployed against little furry creatures. That law made it a crime to produce, sell, or possess "a depiction of animal cruelty," defined as one "in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed" when that conduct violates federal or state law. Noting that depictions of animal cruelty are not categorically unprotected by the First Amendment, eight justices concluded that the ban was unconstitutionally overbroad.

In response to that decision, Congress passed the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in December 2010. The replacement law applies only to production and distribution, and it defines "animal crush video" more narrowly to mean "any photograph, motion-picture film, video or digital recording, or electronic image" that "depicts actual conduct in which 1 or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury," provided the visual depiction is "obscene." Since obscene material, defined by a highly subjective three-part test, was already illegal, that law did not accomplish much, aside from expressing the federal government's disgust at this particular genre.

Worse, in the view of critics who thought the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act did not go far enough, the law banned recordings of animal torture but did not address the underlying acts. The PACT Act is supposed to remedy that alleged shortcoming. The logic of its supporters is unassailable, as long as you do not pause to wonder whether it is really necessary to redundantly criminalize conduct that can already be prosecuted under state law or where Congress gets the authority to do so.

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  1. Yeah, I do not see any legitimate avenue for this to be remotely Constitutional.

    A federal “Bad things are bad” law, while amusing, is a stupid idea.

    1. It’s only amusing until you get arrested for trying to get rid of the mouse infestation by using sticky traps, or trying to stop the neighbor’s cat from pissing on your porch constantly with an airsoft gun.

      I can see a lot of ways this can be abused be used to punish innocent people.

      1. NY: If WE have to live with rats and bed bugs, so does EVERYBODY else!

        1. DC: Where the rats and snakes are the ones making the actual laws, it makes so much sense!

      2. What it says is you have to shoot the neighbor’s cat with intent to kill it humanely, like using hollow points in an AR.

    2. Blame FDR, the Harlon Stone Supreme Court and Wickard v. Filburn.

      They really fucked us.

  2. Where does Congress get the authority to redundantly criminalize abuse of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles?

    Fish? Fuck’em.

    1. That’s not the type of crushing they are talking about, sicko.

      1. Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You may remember me from such medical films as “Alice Doesn’t Live Anymore” and “Mommy, What’s Wrong with that Man’s Face?”

        1. WTF? I swear to God I refreshed and this wasn’t here before posting below.

          1. Net Neutrality? Your being throttled by the man!

    2. Fish? Fuck’em.

      You mean let ’em sleep with the fishes?

      You may remember this and other fish fucking jokes from The Simpsons.

      1. W.C. Fields: “I don’t drink water. Fish fuck in it.”

  3. This law is an example of cruelty to Americans.

  4. So if you run over a toad on the road by accident, you can go to federal prison?

    1. Depends on the size of the toad. Several months ago a the car in front of me hit a squirrel. It was writhing in a manner that was pretty clearly indicative of significant CNS trauma so I made sure to finish the job. Did I abet an animal torturer or did I put the animal out of it’s misery before a crime was committed?

    2. Only if the toad was crossing a state line.

  5. Want to mutilate your kid’s genitals? That’s woke.

    Accidentally step on a kitten? Now you’re a felon.

    1. Bro, that little kid wrote that our tolerant views and fight for social justice is just a way for us to crush puss!

    2. Circumcision is woke now? Oh crap.

  6. “Where does Congress get the authority to redundantly criminalize abuse of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles”

    Same place they get the authority for the war on drugs, the FYTW clause of the Constitution.

  7. The case for a federal statute criminalizing animal cruelty consists mostly of the observation that there currently is no such law.

    NOW can we make being an asshole a crime?

    1. We’re gonna need more prisons…

      1. Just wall up the blue states – – – – – – – –

        1. As can be seen in this here comment section, they hardly have a monopoly on assholery.

          1. Now see here….

          2. Well the best part of that idea is that both side’s assholes will look over the either side of the wall and laugh saying “look at those assholes in prison”.

          3. As can be seen in this here comment section, they hardly have a monopoly on assholery.

            I’m not sure who you are, but you aren’t Zeb. Or, if you are Zeb, you might want to go see a professional or lay off the alcohol or something.

    2. “NOW can we make being an asshole a crime?”

      But without assholes, we would all be full of shit.

    3. If you outlaw assholes, only outlaws will be able to give a shit.

  8. the PACT Act applies only to mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

    I ran over a grass snake a few months ago. I guess I’ll have to take an assumed name and go on the lam. I Michael Hihn a good name for a fugitive?

    1. that’s a good question. If you have a rattlesnake in your back yard, and you have kids/pets, is killing it gonna get you put in prison? What if its coyotes who think your cat’s delicious? Are we gonna get a bunch of assholes shouting “Animal Lives Matter” every time someone kills a pest?

      1. No, only when a federal prosecutor has it in for you.

        1. Federal prosecutors have it in for everyone though, its not about the case, its about the quota!

  9. the PACT Act applies only to mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

    And, of course, to any animal that self-identifies as a mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian.

    1. Speciesism is a problem in the community of organisms that identify as part of the animal kingdom.

  10. It is time to get rid of Congress with a one term limit and cut its size dramatically. They have way too much time to create mischief, but cannot create a balanced budget.

    1. Just go to part time; they meet for January and February in an unheated barn in Topeka KS, and for July and August in an un-air-conditioned quonset hut in Big Bend TX.

    2. you had me at “get rid of Congress”

  11. In the same place it found the authority to make federal laws and regulations involving healthcare, education, housing, retirement, welfare entitlements, transportation, labor, drugs or pretty much anything else the federal government does nowadays (short of the military, courts and the postal service). They pulled it out of their ass, cause it is clearly not an enumerated power and clearly unconstitutional at the federal level with the 10th amendment making it explicitly unconstitutional. It’s not as though an obscure federal animal cruelty law is the first time the federal government has overstepped it’s constitutional bounds.

  12. Hell, since slow torturing followed by eventual death is out, looks like we’ll just have to step up our game to more efficient wholesale and wanton slaughter.

  13. “..to include not only crushing but also burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement, or any other action…”

    Impaling? Like shooting a deer with an arrow?

    Are Democrats trying to piss off absolutely everyone?

    1. the House of Representatives unanimously approved ….

      Sorry, Jerry — it ain’t “Democrats” this time.

      1. The bill was brought forward by Democrats, and any Republican voting against it would be painted as being in favor of animal torture during their reelection campaign, so yeah, Democrats. They knew exactly what they were doing.

  14. “The PACT Act counterintuitively defines “animal crushing” to include not only crushing but also burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement…”

    Besides the fact that this should be in no way a federal issue, this is just way too broadly written. As a hunter/trapper, or even as a homeowner combatting vertebrate pest species, a strict reading of this would turn me into a criminal. Setting deadfall traps (crushing), submerged conibear traps (drowning), and deadset traps (impalement) could be considered federal offenses.

    I can’t help but think this is an intentional feature by animal rights activists/lobbyists.

    1. ‘Any other action that causes bodily harm’ buts up against passive and inadvertent harm pretty solidly. If I flush a radiator and stray happens to wander by and drink a toxic dose before I find an appropriate disposal container I conceivably tortured that animal. Failing to feed a wild or stray animal, even preventing it from obtaining food that you own constitutes an action that causes bodily harm.

    1. Those exceptions do make me feel a little better about it.

      Still, it’s an unnecessary additional law, and I could see it as a legislative foothold to further restrict otherwise lawful practices in the name of “animal rights” in the future.

      1. Exceptions to laws just allow the public to accept it.

        Then the judges, prosecutors, and bureaucrats make excuses for false arrests and deaths for resisting the FBI while you kill a cute kitten for food.

        I already contacted my US Senators to vote against this law because like most laws, it is unconstitutional.

        1. Exceptions to laws just allow the public to accept it.

          Exactly. And who do you think gets to define pest control. My guess is ‘not the people that actually have to deal with the pest’.

          #RatLivesMatter

        2. In the future, they will be loopholes that need to be closed.

        3. Maybe this will prevent police shooting pets for no good reason…?

    2. South Park already addressed this. “They’re coming right for us!”

    3. No exception for animal sacrifice as part of a religious ritual. Don’t some Jews swing chickens around their heads to erase sin? And as for slaughtering an animal, how about if you slice off the sashimi of the fish so that it stays alive twitching on your plate as in a Japanese ikizukuri restaurant. Or Chinese style chicken feet where the living chicken is placed on a hot greased griddle where it dances until its feet are ready to be chopped off and eaten. (In Taiwan chicken feet is a movie snack fave, like popcorn.) We have so many ways of torturing animals, it’s hard to imagine a single law that prevents it.

  15. “…a 1999 law aimed at “crush videos,” which cater to a highly specific sexual fetish involving high heels deployed against little furry creatures. ”

    So I had to read 2/3 of this article just to find out what the headline was about. That’s cruel.

    1. highly specific sexual fetish… against little furry creatures

      “Good Lord – I’ve heard about this – cat juggling!”

      1. Sick reference, bro!

  16. serious bodily injury

    I vomit every time I hear someone in Congress speak, is that enough bodily harm to get them all locked up?

  17. Typical of an authoritarian govt and increasingly immoral population. In order to gain more control over the population, they are willing to ignore the rules of the Constitution to further their goals. As Thomas Jefferson said, The Constitution and the Republic are designed for a moral population. Once the morals of the population degrade and the govt officials of choice become psychopaths such as we have now, you might as well tear up the Constitution and call it quits, because the Republic no longer exists.

  18. Where does Congress get the authority for ANYTHING it does?

    Out of its collective arse.

  19. The power to regulate interstate commerce, of course, is not the same as the power to regulate anything that can be said to affect interstate commerce, although you could be forgiven for concluding otherwise after reading the Supreme Court’s precedents in this area.

    Yeah, I think we can all agree, that particular ship has sailed. At least for now.

    One recent appointee still got confirmed after opining that the constitution allowed the federal government to require you to buy broccoli. If you can still get the job after that horrific answer, there’s no hope for getting that genie back in the bottle any time soon.

  20. “But perhaps you did not realize that “abused animals are sometimes taken across state lines,” as Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, points out.”

    I’m betting JFree offered her that “argument”; it fits with his/her straw-grasping.

  21. Animal cruelty?
    Hopefully this law can get kids out of the public school monopolies where animal cruelty is an every day occurrence.

  22. But will Trump sign it? and if he does will the courts uphold it?

    It takes 3 to tango when it comes to violating the constitution.

  23. But seriously… look at that picture.
    Orange heels with a pink skirt?
    That’s the crime.

  24. Catch-all headline: Congress Tortures the Constitution To Obtain Permission for a Federal (fill in the blank) Law.

    1. Cue Speaker Pelosi:

      “The constitution? Are you serious? Are you serious???”

  25. Does it strike anyone as distorted that the heart of a viable unborn baby (third trimester) can be impaled by a long needle in the process of performing a legal abortion?

  26. I just kicked a chipmunk across my back yard on general principle.

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