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Supreme Court Voids Animal-Cruelty Law on First Amendment Grounds

Justice Alito dissents? Yes, Virginia, there are pro-animal people on both sides of the aisle.

by
Julia Szabo

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April 23, 2010 - 12:00 am
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If you love animals as much as I do, it’s extremely difficult not to get upset about the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday in the case of United States v. Stevens. The case was a constitutional challenge to Section 48, the federal law that criminalized the sale of depictions of animal cruelty, notably dogfighting videos and “crush” videos showing small animals mutilated by high heels to gratify a human sexual fetish.

Sadly for the animals and the people who care about their welfare, by a vote of 8 to 1, the Court held that the law violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment and is therefore unenforceable. The decision threw out the criminal conviction of Robert Stevens, who was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for making and selling despicably violent videos of dogfights. How clever of Stevens to challenge his sentence on First Amendment grounds: now he’s free to make and sell more sickening “entertainments.”

Justice Samuel Alito Jr. is a dog lover and the lone dissenting vote. He said that the harm animals suffer in dogfights is enough to sustain the law, and that the ruling will probably spur the creation of new “crush” videos, because it has “the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos.” Of course, Justice Alito is right.

Key outlets of the mainstream media — the same MSM that almost always gets it wrong whenever animals make the news — wholeheartedly supported invalidating Section 48. They include (surprise!) the New York Times and National Public Radio. Being biased, the MSM, as usual, just couldn’t report this pet story with care. No, they had to pit the “animal rights activists” against the free-speech zealots as if they were hosting, well, a dogfight. Anyone who cares about animals is, in the MSM’s opinion, an “animal rights activist” (read: terrorist). Yet nothing could be further from the truth; Justice Alito is the proof.

The MSM couldn’t be bothered to quote the calm, rational Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), experts on animal cruelty laws; no, they went right to PETA, the ever-controversial group that, despite its often clearheaded arguments, is now, unfortunately, stereotyped in the public’s imagination — with the MSM’s help — as the radical pro-animal fringe. Which means that anything PETA says, no matter how reasonable or compelling, will be neatly dismissed. Minor MSM outlets have the arrogance to register amazement that a conservative — of all people! — should show compassion for animals.

On AOL, Mara Gay wrote:

Meanwhile, some animal rights activists were surprised to find themselves siding with the conservative Justice Samuel Alito Jr. Alito, a dog owner who protested that the purpose of the law was “not to suppress speech, but to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals agreed. In a statement, the often rabidly liberal animal rights organization said it is “not in the spirit of the constitution to allow or encourage gratuitous depictions of torture for sexual gratification or profit.” And, PETA said, “allowing these videos to be distributed can incite harm by encouraging others who are inclined toward violence to engage in cruel and felonious acts — for the camera or otherwise.”

PETA is right, of course, but if its comments are prefaced by Gay’s knee-jerk “rabidly liberal” epithet, what rolling eyeballs will bother to read further? And why should it be so surprising to the MSM when conservatives make animal welfare a priority? Yes, Virginia, there are pro-animal people on both sides of the aisle: Justice Alito was nominated by President George W. Bush; Section 48 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, but it was introduced in 1999 by Rep. Elton Gallegly of California — a (gasp) Republican.

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