Supreme Court Tosses Overbroad Cruelty Video Law

April 21, 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 20, 2010, struck down a federal law that outlaws possession of depictions of cruelty to animals. Journalism groups had urged the court to do so.

In a 1999 law, Congress had sought to outlaw certain pornographic "crush" videos, which showed deliberate cruelty to small animals. But as written, the sweeping law slapped criminal penalties on almost any creation, sale, or possession of portrayals of cruelty to animals.

According to the Washington Post, Chief Justice John Roberts, for the majority in the 8-1 decision, "wrote that the definition was so loose that it could include all depictions of wounding or killing animals, even hunting videos or magazines. He said the law's exemption for works of 'serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value' was not enough protection, and the court was not reassured by the government's argument that prosecutions were rare."

Journalism groups, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the law could criminalize ordinary journalistic investigations meant to expose and end animal cruelty.