It’s Animal Cruelty, Not Animal Planet
I had the privilege of sitting in the U.S. Supreme Court this morning as the nine justices debated whether to uphold the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law, which Congress passed in 1999 to bar the commercial trafficking in videos of illegal animal torture for profit. The justices asked thoughtful questions about the balance between freedom of speech and the governmental interest in stamping out deplorable cruelty to animals. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal did an outstanding job defending the anti-cruelty statute and making the government’s case that the measure is narrowly constructed to stop inhumane and illegal conduct, not expression.
But the most interesting turn of events came later on the high court steps, where proponents and opponents of the law gathered to offer their comments to reporters. For some time leading up to the hearing, the man convicted under the law for peddling several dogfighting videos, Bob Stevens, has been described by the press and by his own attorneys as a documentary filmmaker, someone who is not involved in dogfighting but is rather just a journalist seeking to inform others about the issue—as if he doesn’t represent the dark underworld of dogfighting, but rather represents Animal Planet or National Geographic. This despite the fact that Stevens says at the beginning of one of his own videos, “Japan Pit Fights,” that he flew his own dogs to Japan to participate in staged combat.
When Stevens’ attorney, Robert Corn-Revere, was questioned after today’s hearing about whether the man was in fact a reporter or a dogfighter, here’s what he had to say:
Mr. Stevens is not a dogfighter, he is not a dogfight promoter, he is a pit bull enthusiast. And yes, he has dogs who have been involved in fights.
So he fights his dogs, but he’s not a dogfighter? It sounds like his own version of what the definition of “is” is.
The fact is the law includes a broad exemption for depictions with any “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value”—it’s just that selling videos of animals being maimed and tortured to people who are titillated by the violence and the bloodletting doesn’t qualify. We’ve already seen a huge resurgence in “crush videos”—where scantily clad women crush mice, kittens, and other small animals to death with their bare feet or high heels—readily available for sale again over the Internet due to Stevens’ constitutional challenge. If this important anti-cruelty law is not upheld, we can be sure that dogfighters like Stevens, too, will retreat from their dark corner and cause more and more animals to suffer for their snuff films.