United States v. Stevens: Win, Loss or Draw for Animals?
Journal of Animal Ethics, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 12-19, 2012
8 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2012 Last revised: 28 Feb 2016
Date Written: January 31, 2012
Robert J. Stevens, proprietor of “Dogs of Velvet and Steel,” was indicted for marketing dog-fighting videos in violation of 18 U.S.C. §48, a law criminalizing visual or auditory depictions of animals being “intentionally mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed” if such conduct violated federal or state law where “the creation, sale, or possession [of such materials]” takes place.” The law aimed principally at makers and distributors of “crush videos” wherein women wearing high heels and depicted from the waist down, grind small animals to death. However, the language of 18 U.S.C. §48 extended to dog-fighting as well. Stevens challenged the law as unconstitutional, claiming it violated his First Amendment right of freedom of speech. The case eventually ended up before the Supreme Court, which vacated Stevens’ conviction and ruled the law unconstitutional.
This article explores what U.S. v. Stevens means for the world of animal protection and whether the Court’s decision will have lasting implications for the campaign to rein in animal cruelty. It argues that the answer is “maybe, but probably not.” In Stevens, the Court for the second time skirted the question of whether preventing animal cruelty can rise to the level of compelling state interest. Ironically, the Court’s avoidance of the issue may constitute a net positive for animal advocacy.
Keywords: First Amendment, United States v. Stevens, animal cruelty, crush videos, constitutional law, compelling state interest, free speech, Supreme Court, animal law
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K19, K30, K39, K42, Q20, Q29, Z00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation