Animal crush videos are back and, next week, The HSUS will release details about their resurgence on the Web. By all appearances, this lurid and sickening commercial activity re-emerged from the shadows after two federal courts, most recently the U.S. Supreme Court in April, struck down as unconstitutional the 1999 federal law criminalizing the sale of these videos.
Today, the U.S. House voted 416-3 in favor of a new, more narrowly tailored law to crack down on the commercial trade in these videos. The bill, H.R. 5566 and known as the Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Animal Crush Videos Act, was introduced by Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Gallegly was the author of the original 1999 law and has been an especially tenacious foe of animal cruelty and the crush video industry. The House Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on the topic, taking testimony from scholars on the First Amendment who argued that a more carefully crafted measure could survive a legal challenge and suggested what the contours of such legislation should be. Gallegly and Peters introduced a bill that took the witnesses’ recommendations into account, and it quickly gained 263 cosponsors, including Democratic and Republican leaders. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and the full committee’s Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) worked with all parties to produce a strong bill, which responds to the concerns expressed by the court.
The House action today is a reminder of the near universal view among the American people that individuals who commit malicious and obscene acts of cruelty for commercial gain should not have license to peddle and profit from videos showing these acts. By banning the sale of the videos, the federal government can deter these people from making the videos in the first place. Because it is so hard to catch people in the act of making them, the only practical way to crack down on the activity is to stop the sale of these obscene videos.
The American Civil Liberties Union announced its opposition to the legislation, again on First Amendment grounds, but its arguments did not seem to resonate with lawmakers. Of those who voted today, every Democrat voted in favor of the bill, and only three Republicans voted against it—Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Tom Graves (R-Ga.), and Ron Paul (R-Texas).
Now, the action shifts to the Senate where Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) have vowed to lead the fight in favor of the bill. We’ll work hard to help them succeed and to see the legislation sent on to the President in the weeks ahead.
It was a disappointment in April when the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 to strike down the law. But with any setback, we must be resilient. The measure approved today has even more support than the 1999 measure that the House approved. With the strong leadership of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus in the House, we did not wait a moment to re-engage the fight, and today’s result is a key step toward restoring a much-needed federal prohibition.
Animal cruelty is a vice, and more people than ever realize that it is a form of social pathology. The people who commit these acts are a danger not only to animals, but also to our communities, and they need to be stopped with the force of law.