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Lessons From an Animal Cruelty Case In the U.S. Supreme Court

by Sherry Colb

FindLaw columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb discusses an important First Amendment and animal cruelty case that the Supreme Court recently decided to review. The case involves the constitutionality of a statute through which Congress responded to the phenomenon of “crush” videos, in which a woman tortures and slowly kills animals to appeal to those with a sexual fetish for watching such abuse. However, as Colb notes, in the case the Court will review, Robert J. Stevens was convicted not of any crush-video offense, but of filming and distributing violent videos of pit-bull fights and pit-bull attacks. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down Stevens’s conviction on First Amendment grounds, the Supreme Court opted to take the case. Colb covers the key First Amendment precedents that may influence the Court’s ruling, drawing on cases from the context of child pornography to argue that the state has a legitimate interest in destroying the market for certain materials. She also contends that those who are horrified by crush videos, but who are not vegans, should look within to consider whether their practices of eating meat or animal products do not create a valid analogy between themselves and the repellent crush video makers.

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