Huffpost Green

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Patt Morrison Headshot

The Supreme Court Reviews Animal Torture Films: Eight Thumbs Up!

Posted: Updated:

The fruit of a crime is a crime, right?

The man having a cigarette in the getaway car is just as guilty of murder as the bank robber who pulled the trigger.

So why has the Supreme Court just given a legal pass to the criminal torture and murder of animals - not the act in person, but on video?

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

The original 1999 law 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.
So evidently it is once again protected free speech to make and sell videos of pit bulls tearing each other to pieces.

Every state has anti-cruelty laws, but the federal statute was drafted to address cruelty conducted anonymously, by anonymous video perpetrators. 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?

Dog-fighting is a felony in all 50 states; it's also against the law in all but one state even to attend a dogfight. Why, then, is it legal to put it on a computer screen or TV?

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.

It should be no 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.

In a rare and welcome show of bipartisanship, the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus - I didn't know there was one, but I'm glad there is - have jumped on this. To navigate the court ruling, California's Elton Gallegly and Virginia's Jim Moran have put forward a more specific and narrow law about crush videos, pointedly banning similar noxious practices like burning, impaling and drowning the blameless creatures on video.

At best, that'll put us pretty much right back where we were in 1999. (Or in 1599, with Tudor audiences cheering animal torture for amusement.) And in 2010, that's no place for our ''superior'' species to be.

From Our Partners