The court voted 8-1, with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting, a case involving the criminal conviction of a Virginia man who sold videos of pit bull fights. The 1999 law limited Internet sales of so-called crush videos which the government claimed appealed to a particular sexual fetish showing women crushing insects and small animals with their bare feet or high heels.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion, said the law went too far and could apply to videos about hunting.
"We read [the law] to create a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth," Roberts wrote. "To begin with, the text of the statute’s ban on a 'depiction of animal cruelty' nowhere requires that the depicted conduct be cruel," he added. "That text applies to 'any . . . depiction' in which 'a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed.'"
"(T)he First Amendment protects against the government," Roberts wrote. "We would not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the government promised to use it responsibly."
Alito said the harm animals suffer in dogfights is enough to sustain the law. "The Court strikes down in its entirety a valuable statute... that was enacted not to suppress speech, but to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty — in particular, the creation and commercial exploitation of 'crush videos,' a form of depraved entertainment that has no social value," he wrote.
"The Court’s approach, which has the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos and is thus likely to spur a resumption of their production, is unwarranted."
Animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and 26 states joined the Obama administration in support of the law.
The government sought a ruling that treated videos showing animal cruelty like child pornography, not entitled to constitutional protection.
David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition was quoted in an msnbc.com account, saying
"Speech is protected whether it's popular or unpopular, harmful or unharmful."
In February, the count ruled in Citizens United that corporations have the same rights of free speech as individuals to contribute money to political candidates.
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