Half of the country’s state attorneys general and the Humane Society of the United States have filed “friend of the court” briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate a federal animal cruelty law struck down by a federal appellate court last year.
The 1999 Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act banned the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme and illegal acts of animal cruelty. Its passage was prompted by an HSUS investigation that uncovered an underground subculture of “animal crush” videos showing women, often in high-heeled shoes, impaling and crushing to death puppies, kittens and other small animals.
HSUS credits the law with stopping the proliferation of animal crushing operations and helping crack down on commercial dog fighting operations, in which the animals often fight to the death for the amusement of viewers.
Last year, in U.S. v. Stevens, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in a split decision, threw out the conviction of Robert Stevens, a Virginia man who sold videos through his "Dogs of Velvet and Steel" business. The court ruled that the depictions for which video purveyor was being prosecuted were “protected speech.” Among the judges who joined with the majority was Marjorie O. Rendell, the wife of Gov. Rendell.
In his dissent, Judge Robert Cowen wrote that the government “has a compelling interest in eradicating animal cruelty,” and that “depictions of animal cruelty are intrinsically related to the underlying animal cruelty, the market for videos of animal cruelty incentivizes the commission of acts.”
In April, the Supreme Court granted the U.S. Solicitor General’s request for review.
The attorneys general, in their brief, argue cruelty is often closely associated with other serious crimes such as gang activity, drug dealing, and violent felonies. Neither Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett nor New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram were among those who joined in the suit. An email to Corbett’s spokesman was not immediately returned last night.
Before the law was enacted, there were some 2,000 crush videos available in the marketplace. Since the appellate court ruling, crush videos have turned up again on the Internet, according to HSUS.
The animal welfare group says the videos included depictions of “a woman slowly crushing a small kitten to death as the kitten endures excruciating torture; an orchestrated fight to the death where tortured dogs and puppies rip the skin and ears off their opponents and bite through each other’s ears, paws and neck; and brutalized dogs attacking a defenseless feral hog in a small pen with no escape.”