UNITED STATES v. ROBERT J. STEVENS | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a federal statute criminalizing depictions of animal cruelty violated the First Amendment.

Action

The Supreme Court held that the federal statute was in violation of the First Amendment, agreeing with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Facts/Syllabus

Congress passed a federal statute that banned any depictions in which “a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed.” The law was intended to target so-called “crush videos,” which “depict women slowly crushing animals to death ‘with their bare feet or while wearing high heeled shoes[.]’”

Stevens was charged under this law for producing videos containing dogfighting.

Importance of Case

The Court both declined to create a new category of expression unprotected by the First Amendment and called the government’s argument that the First Amendment requires categorical balancing “startling and dangerous.” The Supreme Court held that the statute under which Stevens was convicted was “substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment.”

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