President signs bill banning animal crush videos

President Barack Obama on Thursday signed into law a bill that outlaws the creation and distribution of so-called animal crush videos -- culminating a remarkably quick response to a Supreme Court decision handed down less than eight months ago.

It was April 20 when the Court, in United States v. Stevens, struck down an earlier federal law that banned a more broadly defined category of depictions of animal cruelty. The Court found that law to be "substantially overbroad" and therefore unconstitutional under the First Amendment, because it could apply to hunting and fishing videos and other legitimate depictions.

The new law, passed with bipartisan support after hearings in recent months, focuses more narrowly on "obscene" animal crush videos in which animals are crushed or burned or otherwise mutilated. The definition ties the offense to obscenity -- which is not protected by the First Amendment -- by noting that the videos appeal to a particular sexual fetish.

No immediate opposition to the new law has surfaced, though it may not be completely immune from constitutional challenge. Since the videos don't, strictly speaking, depict sexual acts, calling them obscene expands the definition of obscenity. The Court may have more to say about the definition of obscenity in the pending case of Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, which asks the Court to treat violent video games like obscenity, at least for minors.

But for now, the groups that pressured Congress to respond quickly to the Supreme Court ruling in Stevens are applauding the new law. Animal advocates said there was was a major resurgence in trafficking of the videos after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and then the Supreme Court invalidated the earlier law. "This [new] law protects both animals and free speech by focusing specifically on crush videos, which clearly have no place in our society," said Randall Lockwood of ASPCA. Wayne Pacelle of the Humance Society of the United States said, "We are thankful that countless animals will now be spared from intentional torture for sick entertainment and profit."

(Published by BLT - December 10, 2010)

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