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Local congressman introduces new bill to stop the sale of animal cruelty videos

April 21, 2010 |  6:20 pm
Gallegly When the Supreme Court struck down, on free-speech grounds, a law making it a federal crime to sell videos depicting animal cruelty, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) had more than a passing interest.

He wrote the law.

On Wednesday, Gallegly responded swiftly to the ruling, introducing a "narrowly tailored" bill aimed at passing constitutional muster. The measure would target so-called animal crush videos, such as those showing women in high heels stomping on puppies and kittens.

The legislation comes a day after the court, in an 8-1 decision, overturned the conviction of a Virginia man prosecuted under Gallegly's "Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act" for selling dog-fighting videos. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the 1999 law was too broad and could allow prosecutions for selling hunting videos.

By Wednesday, Gallegly and Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), co-chairmen of the Animal Protection Caucus, had written the new law and, within a couple of hours, lined up 55 of their colleagues, from both parties, as co-sponsors.

"Violence is not a 1st Amendment issue; it is a law enforcement issue," Gallegly said in a letter to colleagues. "You are not allowed to cry ‘fire' in a theater; you are not allowed to possess or distribute child pornography. You shouldn't be able to create and distribute videos that glorify the senseless killing of defenseless animals."

In an interview off the House chamber, Gallegly expressed hope the measure would pass Congress quickly.

Gallegly argued that the measure was needed not only to protect animals, but to guard against "the Jeffrey Dahmers of the world" who "began their killing sprees by cruelly inflicting pain on animals."

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said, "We think this is consistent with the court's ruling." Pacelle worked with Gallegly in drafting the new measure.

Pacelle said that before the 1999 law was enacted, his group found about 3,000 of the videos on the market, selling for up to $300 apiece. After Congress acted, the market all but disappeared, he said.

But after a federal appellate court declared the law unconstitutional in mid-2008, the videos again proliferated on the Internet, he said.

The new, three-page bill would prohibit the interstate sale of images of animals being "intentionally crushed, burned, drowned or impaled" unless they have "religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historic or artistic value." Violations would be punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 or both. The bill says the prohibition would not apply to hunting videos.

But Andrew Tauber, a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Mayer Brown who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of free-speech argument against the law, said the new measure would "still face serious constitutional challenge."

"Statutes and policies that discriminate against speech based on its content, as this bill would do, are …presumptively unconstitutional," he said.

Gallegly took up the issue in 1999 after the Ventura County district attorney ran into problems trying to prosecute a Thousand Oaks man selling over the Internet a video depicting animal cruelty.

-- Richard Simon

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Photo: Elton Gallegly in Congress in 2002. Credit: Associated Press

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