Law Banning Depictions of Animal Cruelty Could Go to the Dogs

October 06, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The law banning depictions of animal cruelty at issue in a Supreme Court argument this morning may not survive, reports Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog.

The federal law makes it illegal to make and sell commercially “any visual or auditory depiction” of the killing or serious abuse of a living animal so long as that conduct is illegal.

Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal, appealing to the Court to reinstate the law, which was struck down by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, explained that Congress intended to shut down “a robust market” for “crush videos” — images of small animals being stomped to death.  The law, said Katyal, was a “narrowly targeted restriction.”

But Denniston reports that most of the Justices did not appear to be buying his argument. They tossed out a series of hypotheticals asking what would be banned under the law — from videos of bull-fighting to the making of foie gras — to suggest that Congress overreached on this one. Only Justice Samuel Alito, writes Denniston, seemed prepared to support the law as it was written.