Supreme Court will decide if dog fighting videos are protected as free speech - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Supreme Court will decide if dog fighting videos are protected as free speech

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WASHINGTON. - As a new session of the Supreme Court gets underway, justices are dealing with an age-old issue: Free speech.

The Obama administration is asking the court to reinstate a 10-year-old law that bans the production and sale of dog fighting videos or other depictions of animal cruelty.

Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Virginia was sentenced to three years in prison for graphic videos he made about pitbull fights.

His lawyers point out that his sentence was 14 months longer than Michael Vick's sentence for running a dog fighting ring.

A federal appeals court struck down the law and invalidated Stevens' conviction.

"The problem in this case, was that Congress chose to attack speech and control what the people of this country could see and hear before it was even seriously punishing the conduct at issue," explains Patricia Miller, Stevens' attorney.

The government argues that videos showing animal cruelty should be treated like child pornography, outside of any protection from the Constitution.

"It has no social value. It has no cultural value," says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

A handful of media outlets and publishing groups find themselves on the uneasy side of supporting Stevens out of concern the law is so broad in scope it could hamper their ability to report on animal issues.

There are early indications several justices may agree.

During Tuesday's hearing Justice Stephen Breyer asked an administration lawyer "Why not do a simpler thing? Ask Congress to write a statute that actually aims at the frightful things they were trying to prohibit."

There is no time table for when the court may rule on the matter.

The new session of the high court will deal with several hot-button issues including cases on religious freedom, whether local governments will be allowed to impose gun bans and how much influence corporate donors will have in political campaigns.

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