Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Banning Crush Videos

On April 20, the US Supreme Court, in United States v. Stevens, handed a victory to animal abusers when it overturned the federal statute (18 U.S.C. §48) prohibiting the creation, sale, and possession of “crush videos” and other depictions of animal cruelty for commercial purposes. As we go to press, legislation to restore at least part of the law is moving through Congress.

“Crush videos” show women in stilettos or their bare feet literally crushing, stomping on, or impaling small helpless animals to satisfy sadistic viewers with a bizarre sexual fetish. Because of the near-impossibility of identifying those in the videos who were actually committing the cruelty, it was necessary to target the individuals who make and sell such videos and profit from animal suffering. After the law passed, the crush video market dried up quickly, and law enforcement officials—including those in the Stevens case—began to focus instead on prosecuting the makers and distributors of dog fight videos.

In overturning the law, the Supreme Court ruled that it was “substantially overbroad and therefore invalid under the First Amendment” for potentially affecting materials pertaining to legal activities, such as hunting. The Court did not rule on whether a more narrowly drawn statute could pass constitutional muster. With that potential opening, bills were immediately introduced, a hearing was held, and a new bill, H.R. 5566, was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee and subsequently passed the full House by a vote of 416-3. H.R. 5566 is precisely crafted to prohibit interstate and foreign sales and distribution only of "crush videos” as obscene depictions of illegal acts. We urge the Senate to act as swiftly as the House to get this measure to the President’s desk.

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