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Supreme Court: torturing animals on video protected by 1st Amendment; maybe Obama will pick a vegan

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick talks about ending the dog fighting for which he served time in federal prison Sept. 29, 2009 by Reuters Pictures
Not bad enough that they forced property owners to sell out in the interests of economic development or intervened in Bush vs. Gore to stop the 2000 recount that might have found that Al Gore actually won.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution protects animal abusers who torture dogs and record their violence for sale as videos because a law Congress passed in 1999 against animal cruelty was written too vaguely, and could have been used to outlaw hunting videos. In an 8-1 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

The First Amendment's guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.

And the lone hold-out? Might surprise you. It was Samuel Alito, one of the arch conservatives on the court. Rebutting the majority's view that the law was too broad, Alito argued it could still be used to stop crush videos, which apparently appeal to some people's sexual fetish by showing women in stiletto heels crushing animals to death.

"The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it most certainly does not protect violent criminal conduct, even if engaged in for expressive purposes," he wrote.

Question to legal experts: does this mean the court would find constitutionally permissible a crush video depicting people being tortured to death on video on grounds the law was written too vaguely?

Now that President Obama has a new Supreme Court nomination to make, maybe he can consider naming someone with more sensitivity to the souls of animals. First Dog Bo would probably wag his tail at that.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick talks about the dog fighting that led to his conviction and prison time for animal cruelty in a church appearance Sept. 29. Credit: Reuters

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It appears that common sense has been replaced by some poorly written part of the Constitution regarding free speech. There's a big difference between allowing abuse of animals, children or people on videos and "free speech."

I hope the rotten SOBs on the Supreme Court all die a slow agonizing death from cancer of the brain. They apparently all have it judging from this decision.

Along with this decision is the law that every American must own a copy of 'Earthlings' and watch it daily.

Wrong...this was not about animal cruelty. This is about selling videos which depict animal cruelty. There is a distinction there. Cruelty to animals is still illegal and largely uncontroversial.

Presumably, if somebody purposely harmed animals to make money selling video tapes, it shouldn't be too hard to follow the money and use the tapes as evidence in a conviction.

Importation of this material however is another matter.

The SCOTUS is only saying that a state can't prohibit owning the videos. By the same token, states can't prohibit possession of robbery videos, even if some robbers are selling the videos for extra cash.

As to crush videos, the actual conduct in the videos can certainly be made criminal (and probably is in most states, though I'm no expert on animal cruelty laws), in which case the videos are evidence. The videographer aided and abetted the crime (if any) by giving support, as did whomever hired the woman who wore the stiletto heel. And the woman herself, of course. If the shoe fits... The videos in question here were from Japan or pre-dated animal cruelty laws. It is a ridiculous statute from a constitutional perspective. It is always important to remember that our constitutional rights protect us even when the people we disagree with are in power and writing the laws. Just because you don't like something does not mean that you should be allowed to impinge on others' rights, just like they cannot impinge on yours when they do not like what you're doing.

As to people - yes, of course this ruling would also apply to torture videos if there were a similar statute written as poorly as this one is (as the people who like banning things care more about animals than humans usually; not even sure if there is such astatute), although the SCOTUS did leave open a possibility that a statute could be crefted more narrowly and they might let it go. I guess we'll have to see if Congress revises this statute...

>Question to legal experts: does this mean the court would find constitutionally permissible a crush video depicting people being tortured to death on video on grounds the law was written too vaguely? <

Hunh? A provocative question, to be sure, but one that fundamentally misconstrues what happened.

The court did not find crush videos of any kind constitutionally permissible. In fact, Roberts explicitly said they were NOT ruling whether "a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional."

Instead, the court found overly-broad restrictions of speech impermissible.

The court basically invited congress to write a new law targeted narrowly at the worst stuff, but a wide spectrum of the Court basically agreed that that broad prohibitions on speech are unsupportable.

I'm so confused. Do you still go to prison for dog fighting, or only if you're not filming it? What in the hell goes through the minds of these justices? If you didn't believe they are all insane before, you damn well know it now.

A litle correction. After Florida's votres were counted Bush won.

The supreme court (with lower caps out of disrespect) is absurd. To torture animals is illegal so how can taping it to make money be ok? Maybe Michael Vick will get in on this. If I come across someone beating their dog at a dog park, he to will be going to the hospital. This world is a sick place.

Horrified animal lovers: Protection of free speech (in this case, the option to display video of animal abuse) is necessary to expose exploitation of animals to the public.

If it were illegal for me (or anyone) to show undercover footage of animals being abused in labs and on factory farms, the abuses would continue unabated, away from public view.

Free speech HELPS animals.

This case is about the media depiction of criminal acts. If the court decided the case differently, the government would be free to censor shows like Cops which routinely depict criminal acts or censor the whistle-blowing video expose of animal cruelty that such groups as PETA have publicized. As always, sunshine is greatest disinfectant.

This is NOT freedom of expression, it's pornography. It's just as illegal to abuse animals as it is children or any living creature. What's next, child porno as "freedom of expression" and posted on YouTube?? I guess one could get away with just about anything as long as it's videotaped and called "freedom of expression." Makes me wonder about the people who make and uphold these rules. Where is our constitution, after all? I wonder if it's even there, buried under all of those "amendments" that were invented to protect whatever suited the needs of the government at the time. I'd like to see what's on those judges' computers, (and where they hide their high heels)..... sorry, just expressing my freedom of SPEECH!

This is unacceptable, the corrupt supreme court let some mental illed people making these kind of videos. Think about the new generation!!!! I don't want to see our new generation thinking that is ok to harm a defendless animal? If these sick bastards are willing to do this to a defendless animal? The government has to think about what they are capable to do to other people?

these videos have to be ban period!!!!! the supreme court and the United States Government need to stop being so corrupt and inhumane!!!!!!!

Ahh the American Government protect animal cruelty and I think it all boils down to the NRA,. They know sport hunting is deliberate animal cruelty which means to protect their rights to kill for amusement and put it on videos they have to let dog fighting videos be "acceptable" and even the sadistic disgusting CRUSH videos. When will they realize that deliberate cruelty to animals had GOT TO END and stop protecting the evil monsters who enjoy sharing their sadism thru videos to other scums of the earth. "Free speech" should not be about causing deliberate pain and suffering to innocent sentient being whether its rabbits,kittens, deer, turkey or even bulls from Rodeo to Bullfighting. It's no wonder our world is so corrupted and HEADING TOWARDS THE PITS OF HELL! Please just ship these cruel humans to a small Island and let them commit heinous cruelty to each other and kill each other off. We don't need them in this world and if we don't start having compassion and mercy to all living things we are doomed.

This is unbelievable. Our free speech rights are meant to protect us from persecution for saying what we think and feel and expressing those thoughts. BUT those free speech rights end when they infringe on another living creatures right to life. How the Supreme Court justices could be for one second that torturing an animal to death and then selling that video for people who have a disgusting and horrific fetish is "free speech" is beyond ridiculous.

Does that mean I can go hurt and kill others as an expression of my free speech?
It's so unbelievable. Justice is supposed to protect us from crimes and protect the most innocent among us. This is not a victimless crime. Imagine the pain and fear a puppy or a kitten feels or even a frog or mouse just before the life is crush horribly from its body for nothing more than the sexual satisfaction of someone?

It's just heartbreaking that this is the message the US Supreme Court sends about our justice system. The weakest among us have no right to protection.

The First Amendment of the Constitution does not guarantee anyone the right to sell, import or create videos that depict torture in any way.
Just as the First Amendment does not allow anyone the right to watch or sell snuff films for personal entertainment.

There's a major difference between free speech and the exploitation of animal cruelty under the thinly-veiled guise of "Freedom of Expression."
It's appalling and insane to think that the United States Supreme Court has come to this decision.

Very sickening this allowed!!

How dumb can these responses be. The Supreme Court was right period. It's a question of law not what I over zealot wants the law to be. If you want to make crush videos illegal write the law to that effect. This law was dumb and overbroad and should be knocked down.

Let's change the facts, what about a video showing a human being tortured and killed in a horrible fashion? Is it illegal to see, posses of sell that video? NO. If it were than anyone who has seen, possesses or sells a video showing sick Nazi torturing and killing Jews or terrorists torturing, shooting, beheading Americans is going to go to jail for have a snuff film. What it's educational so it falls under some exception?? What legal exception and who is to say that some sick person doesn't get off on seeing it? It is what it is. If the animal rights idiots what to make these types of laws have Congress write better laws - period.

By the way Carol Lee, I hope you die of cancer after a very painful fight.

The argument that the act is still illegal even if the videos aren't is moot. In the example of crush videos specifically, no one would be making them if no one was buying them. The market for the videos is the cause.

Either way, I never thought I'd see the day I agreed with Alito, but his statement bears repeating: "The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it most certainly does not protect violent criminal conduct, even if engaged in for expressive purposes".

And as for the concern that this law would have banned hunting videos, etc., any form of animal use that is currently legal under the law, i.e. hunting, wouldn't have been banned as it covered only depictions of animal cruelty as defined by existing law.

This is not the end of this by a long shot.

Animal cruelty in America needs to be a felony. Free speech is an American right. If we can't expose what is going on then the scum of the world win and the animals suffer. How is it a dog beaten in Memphis with a tire iron, beat it's leg OFF is not arrested and locked up forever. This person is a danger to everyone. How do women in high heels crush kittens? It's time the Supreme court stand up for animal rights. What is happening to this country that many of our legislators don't care??? America the greatest Country on earth and this is acceptable. Every Senator, Congressmen our President should be doing everything for all the animals in this country. We aren't a third world country or is that where we are headed??? God bless our Animals big and small...

First of all, I'm just as appalled at crush videos as anyone on here. But SCOTUS got it right.

If all depictions of animal cruelty are criminal, then PETA and others are guilty of criminal activity, for they certainly show depictions of animal cruelty. They do it for the purpose of shedding light on a problem and mobilizing action against animal cruelty. BUT the fact remains that the law criminalized the mere DEPICTION of animal cruelty, REGARDLESS of who was actually being cruel to the animals, and REGARDLESS of the purpose for which the depiction is being used.

The behavior depicted is still criminal, and the constitution would not protect making the videos intentionally to profit from animal cruelty (which is why the Court invited Congress to make a better law). But the Constitution does, and should, protect depictions of animal cruelty, so that such abuses can be exposed.

The law was too broad, because it criminalized the actions of PETA as well as the actions of the makers of crush videos.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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