Oral argument: October 6, 2009
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (July 18, 2008)
DOG FIGHTING, ANIMAL CRUELTY, PIT BULLS, FIRST AMENDMENT, FREE SPEECH, CRUSH VIDEOS
The United States prosecuted Robert J. Stevens (“Stevens”) for violating 18 U.S.C. § 48, which states: “Whoever knowingly creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.” Stevens was prosecuted for selling videos depicting dog fights. Stevens claimed that § 48 violates his First Amendment right to free speech and is therefore unconstitutional. The Third Circuit held that § 48 reached a form of protected speech and that the government’s interest in preventing animal cruelty is not a sufficiently compelling interest to justify a ban on depictions of animal cruelty. How the Supreme Court decides this case will reflect its view on the scope of the First Amendment right to speech and affect the power of Congress to identify new areas of unprotected speech.