As the year comes to an end, this will be the last post for Charlotte Law Library News until the new year. This article is brought to you courtesy of Kim Allman, Circulation Manager.
On Tuesday, October 6th the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in what may become a significant legal ruling on issues of free speech and the language of Title 18 U.S.C. § 48. In 1999, Congress passed a law that was primarily aimed at “crush videos” which depicted women in high heels or bare feet stomping small animals to death. § 48 deals with depictions of animal cruelty and the scope of the law is broadly written. The first case to be tried under the new law was United States v. Stevens, 533 F.d 218 (3rd Cir. 2008).
Defendant Robert J. Stevens was arrested for the sale of videos depicting pit bull dog fights that had been filmed in Japan where dog fighting is legal. Stevens had edited the footage together and distributed it for sale through various underground publications and had advertised the videos in Sporting Dog Journal. Stevens was tried and convicted under § 48 and given a sentence of 3 years which was almost two times more than the one term served by NFL player Michael Vick, who had was convicted of conducted dog fights. Attorney Patricia Millet appealed Stevens’ sentence on the grounds that § 48 as it is currently written violates constitutional free speech.
The justices weighed into counsel’s arguments by asking pointed hypothetical questions as to what constitutes a depiction of animal cruelty and what does not? Justice Roberts asked what would be the difference between Stevens’ video and that of videos that were meant to be educational, or political, or religious in content yet showed animals being killed or harmed. Justice Roberts cited the animal rights organization PETA as an example. Justice Sotomayor asked Attorney Neal Katyal who was counsel for the state as to where he would draw the line on free speech in Steven’s video which was promoting dog fighting, and that of documentary film maker David Roma, who had produced a film against dog fighting that was far more graphic in its depictions. Justice Breyer sought to have counsel define if films of hunting or fishing could not be considered depictions of animal cruelty. Justice Scalia brought up films of bull fighting which is legal in Spain but illegal in the United States, “…what if I am an aficionado of bullfights and I think, contrary to the animal cruelty people, I think they ennoble both man and beast, and I want to persuade people that we should have them?”
The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this case. The transcript makes for interesting reading and gives significant insight regarding the issues. You can read the transcript at: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/08-769.pdf What do you think about this issue? How do you think the court will rule on this case?