Without much of anybody but The HSUS and the participants in the case noticing, we gained a major victory this week in our decades-long quest to assert and defend the federal government’s right to crack down on animal abuse. The U.S. Supreme Court elected not to hear an appeal of a federal appellate court ruling upholding a key federal anti-cruelty law. The Supreme Court action means that the appellate court’s ruling stands, affirming the role of the federal government in stopping the sale of despicable videos showing stomping, impaling, and other gruesome means of killing animals in order to stimulate deviant sexual interests among certain viewers.
In 2012, when Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Justice were caught in Texas producing eight videos that involved the torture and killing of puppies, chickens, and kittens for a sexual fetish video, Houston police arrested the couple and they were charged under both federal and state law. In cases where people profit from such horrendous animal cruelty, we believed that the law had to speak, and that’s precisely why we worked so hard to pass a law criminalizing that behavior.
It turned out to be the first prosecution under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010 – legislation to prohibit the commerce in animal crush videos.
Their conviction was challenged, and a U.S. District Court held that the law was unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment. Fortunately, federal prosecutors appealed the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit where, with help from an amicus brief filed by The HSUS and our pro bono partners at Latham & Watkins, the panel of judges was persuaded to reverse the lower court, reinstate the law, and allow the prosecution to go forward.
Predictably, Richards and Justice were not ready to give up and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals’ ruling. It was that appeal that the Supreme Court chose not to take up.
This was a much better outcome than five years ago when the Supreme Court struck down the original federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act as unconstitutional. That 1999 law prohibited the creation and commercial trade of depictions of living animals being maimed, mutilated, tortured, or killed—much like the current Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act. And just as the Supreme Court was hearing arguments about the law, The HSUS released the results of an extensive investigation which found these horrendous videos were making a resurgence due in no small part to the decision of the courts.
We worked with our allies in Congress to tweak the language to conform it to the original Supreme Court ruling. And now the outcome is different and better and right. It is a federal crime to profit from the commerce in crush videos and the full measure of the law can be used against those who are behind the camera and cause animals to suffer such sickening pain and torment.