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The Supremes' film review: 8-1, animal cruelty films are free speech (Justice Alito gives them a thumbs-down)

AlitoThe fruit of a crime is a crime. The guy having a smoke in the getaway car is just as guilty of murder as the bank robber who pulled the trigger.

So why is the Supreme Court now giving a legal pass to the criminal torture and murder of animals – not in person but on video?

Only one justice, Samuel A. Alito Jr., whose springer spaniel Zeus sometimes shows up around the court, dissented in a ruling that threw out a federal ban on videos of graphic violence inflicted on animals.

Evidently it is protected free speech to make and sell videos of pit bulls tearing each other to pieces. The original 1999 law the court threw out was drafted to stop the flourishing trade in videos of women crushing small, helpless animals to death with their feet, which is evidently a turn-on to some people.

Every state has an anti-cruelty law, but the federal statute was drafted to address cruelty administered anonymously, where the perpetrators cannot be identified on video. The man who made the pit bull video was prosecuted under this federal law by the George W. Bush administration in 2004 and sentenced to three years in prison. I guess this ruling means he could be back in business.

In this increasingly online world, fewer people are taking part in an actual act, yet millions are becoming a virtual audience -- is there a difference, ethically, legally, even criminally?

Sharing illegally downloaded music, even if you didn’t download it yourself, and watching illegally obtained DVDs, even if you didn’t sit in the movie theater with a video camera – those are offenses. Yet watching a video that shows criminal animal cruelty is not?

How does this work, then: buying and watching child porn is a crime, just as making child porn is, because having sex with children is a crime, and sharing in the fruits of that crime, even virtually, is also a crime.

Why should it be any different with torturing animals? If it’s a crime to do it, then it should be a crime to show it, to sell tickets or access to it, and to watch it -- even if the "watching" is by video or computer screen thousands of miles away. It implicitly and explicitly encourages the crime of animal cruelty as a profit-making venture.

If this is a mismatch between state and local laws, someone needs to knit up this dropped stitch. California Republican congressman Elton Gallegly says he’ll move ahead on a very narrow law banning crush videos – but at best, that just puts us right back where we were in 1999. (Or in 1599, with Tudor audiences cheering animal torture for amusement.) And that’s no place for a species that regards itself as superior to be.

Photo: Justice Samuel Alito. Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

-- Patt Morrison


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Shop the AV

This is a misleading article.
It was overturned because the language in the law, as written, was too broad.
In this day of WAY overzealous prosecution, the Justices realized the potential for stretching the law to include bull-fighting, hunting, etc.

There are few people who are infuriated by animal cruelty more than I.

However, if you're going to pass a law to try to eliminate the stupidity of "crush videos", dog-fighting videos, and their ilk, then you need to be more direct in what you are trying to ban.

As was written, not only did it make the prosecution of "innocents" more likely, it allowed an avenue of escape for true violators due to it's propensity for "interpretation".

Rewrite the laws -individually- and they will hold up without fear of being overturned.


Thank you for your article, it is a reasonable opinion from a reasonable person and arguing the details, as the court did and the fellow commenter has, just reflects the pathos of this culture. Thank you again.

animal lover

The problem is not with the Supremes, it is with the ultra-incompetent Elton Gallegly. He wrote a law so broad it would ban hunting videos if not in season. It is a shame that a Rep in office more than two decades finally gets a law passed and it is so poorly written that it gets struck down. The only thing worse than career politicians is incompentent career politicians. Gallegly is first of the worst.


So let me get this straight....Congressman Elton Gallegly has been in office 23 years and his legacy is now having drafted an anti "crush video" bill so poorly written that it was invalidated by the courts. I have no problem banning the practice of stepping on little rodents with high heels as some sort of a sexual ritual, but this is what Congressman Gallegly thinks is the most pressing issue of the day.....this is what his legacy is after 23 years in office? Unbelievable.


And bull-fighting is NOT egregious cruelty to animals? Just because it enjoys the sickening coating of "culture and tradition" by no means makes it a practice that any civilized, reasonably-educated and compassionate individual would condone. Dog-fighting is even more brutal and repulsive and it often involves extensive criminal activity beyond the torture of dogs, i.e. gambling, drugs, weapons and violence, and exposure of innocent children with highly impressionable minds to unthinkable barbarianism.

Hunting? No one other than those who enjoy domination and satisfying their blood-lust, actually ENJOY watching films of beautiful wild creatures being gunned down with powerful bullets and flesh-ripping arrows. And while we're at it, I'll include "trapping" here as well. The trappers like to refer to their vicious, pain-inflicting pasttime as "recreational" trapping. My God! If mangling animals can be referred to as "recreation", one has to wonder if humanity actually is evolving or regressing.

We will never, ever enjoy true peace on this threatened planet as long as we find demented pleasure in torturing, maiming and killing animals.

One day these paid "liars" in black robes, heady with their own "god" complexes, will answer to THEIR judge and frankly, I'm glad I'm not in their shoes!


Bullfighting is just as bad as dog fighting. I have two photos of a prissy matador getting gored by a bull. The bull is still behind, but it was good to see.


Shame on the Supreme court! Freedom of speech? You've got to be kidding me! So if someone is into S&M and killing is involved, thats OK? Torture?

We have two justices who are black and hispanic, I'd figure they would accept this form of entertainment since it's part of their cultures. But the other justices?

The Supreme court has now justified the criminal act of dog fighting by those who gaither for the act. Now we will begin to see more of these hideous videos.

For all of us dog lovers. I feel its time to become vilgilantes ourselves and go after the criminals. What ever it takes. It obvious that our government isn't going to protect our pets.

what would Hollywood do?

I'm just wondering...now that we can once again sell video not only depicting abuse but the actual real-life horrific deaths of animals, what will Hollywood do? I guess we no longer need the American Humane Association reassurance of, "No animals were harmed by the making of this movie." Now when a yappy dog is thrown out a window by the protagonist for a laugh in a film, heck, just film some actor throwing a dog out a window. We can shoot horses and break their legs in westerns - more realistic - drop pigs from airplanes, drown kittens - (imagine the excitement of the last gasp), lance cornered bulls (hey, it's tradition, just like dog and cock fights) and blast Bambi and his mother in full Technicolor. It is the manly thing to do. Yes, blood; more blood; blood is speech. It's exciting. What a turn on. Maybe we can get a cable show called, "All About Snuff."

I am aghast at the argument that says, "hey, this is too broad. It will stop hunting shows and bull fights." OK, and your point is.... What purpose does it serve to waste animals for sport? Who are you people?



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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