* US top court to rule on federal animal cruelty law
* Law, aimed at videos, said to violate free-speech rights
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, April 20 The U.S. Supreme Court
said on Monday that it would decide whether a federal law that
makes it a crime to sell videos of animals being tortured or
killed violates constitutional free-speech rights.
The high court agreed to hear a U.S. Justice Department
appeal defending the 1999 animal cruelty law after it was
struck down for infringing free-speech protections.
A U.S. appeals court declared the law unconstitutional and
overturned the conviction of a Virginia man, Robert Stevens,
who sold three videos of pit bulls fighting each other and
attacking hogs and wild boars.
His conviction in 2005 was the first in the country under
the law. Stevens had been sentenced to 37 months in prison.
By a 10-3 vote, the appeals court rejected the government's
argument that, for the first time in more than 25 years, there
was a new category of speech not covered by constitutional
free-speech protections. Usually, videos and other depictions
are protected as free speech, even if they show abhorrent
In 1982, the Supreme Court last made an exception and ruled
that free-speech rights do not apply to certain sexual
depictions of children.
Congress adopted the law in 1999 in an attempt to stop
people from profiting by the interstate sale of depictions of
unlawful torture and killing of animals.
Laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along
with various other federal laws, already prohibit animal
Justice Department attorneys said Congress, in adopting the
law, also is aimed at videos in which women in high-heeled
shoes crush small animals as a type of sexual fetish, sought to
stop a unique and reprehensible type of criminal conduct.
They told the Supreme Court that the animal cruelty law
should be upheld just like child pornography laws. The justices
are expected to hear arguments in the case and then rule during
their upcoming term that begins in October.