Wayne Pacelle

  • September 16, 2010
    Lawmakers are again considering legislation aimed at outlawing videos that depict animal cruelty. In the spring, the Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Stevens, invalidated as a violation of the First Amendment a 1999 federal law that banned creation and disturbution of videos of animal cruelty.

    The Blog of Legal Times (BLT) reports on a hearing this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee focused on creating a new law that supposedly would not be as sweeping as the first one. The new legislation is supposedly aimed primarily at crush videos, which show animals being crushed to death by "scantily clad, high-heeled women," as described before the committee by the Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) vice president for government affairs Nancy Perry.

    The BLT, notes that "ACLU lobbyist Michael Macleod-Ball," testified against the bill warning that although animal cruelty is illegal, but that banning such acts would still violated free speech.

    In post for the HSUS blog, the group's leader Wayne Pacelle writes that the matter of trying again to ban crush videos has "united members of Congress across the spectrum," noting that the House of Representatives has already passed a bill "to ban interstate and foreign commerce in these abhorrent videos."

  • October 6, 2009

    By Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Pacelle also blogs at A Humane Nation, where the article is cross-posted.

    Today the United States Solicitor General Elena Kagan will stand before the Supreme Court and argue that the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law is not only constitutional but urgently needed to stop the abuse of animals. Congress passed the law by overwhelming margins in 1999 to halt the interstate sale of videos depicting illegal acts of animal cruelty, including so-called "animal crush" videos, where women in stiletto heels crush, impale, and even burn small animals in order to titillate viewers.

    The law caused the crush video industry to recede dramatically and no prosecutions of purveyors of crush videos have been needed in the decade that the law was in force. The law has never been used against documentary filmmakers, journalists or others engaging in legitimate speech -- the only three prosecutions under the law have involved dogfighters who sold videos in interstate commerce for profit. Dogfighting is a federal felony and a felony in every state -- making it the most widely and severely criminalized form of animal cruelty in the United States.

    The case before the court is U.S. v. Stevens, and it comes to the court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threw out the conviction of dogfighting impresario Robert Stevens that was handed down by a federal jury in Pennsylvania. Stevens peddled several videos -- "Japan Pit Fights," "Pick a Winna," and "Catch Dogs and Country Living" -- all of which showed grossly inhumane treatment of animals, including some staged in Japan. Stevens apparently shipped three dogs to Japan for the fights shown in one video. Some of the fights last for more than an hour, and the dogs are bloodied and suffering throughout.

    The federal law has an exemption for materials with "serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value." After viewing the videos and hearing days of arguments on both sides, the jury found that Stevens' videos had no such qualities and was an unvarnished dogfighting promotional video, showing acts of cruelty illegal in the United States.

    In the press, Stevens and his lawyer have claimed that he is a documentarian and that he opposes dogfighting! Yet we know at The HSUS that the man has been deeply involved in promoting dogfighting for decades, and this eleventh-hour courtroom performance is nothing short of an unadulterated lie. Few drug dealers or arsonists admit they are criminals, and that's been our experience with dogfighters too. And I can't recall ever hearing a documentary narrator egging on the subjects to tear each other limb from limb, as Stevens does several times during a 90-minute dogfight in "Pick a Winna."

    Before raking in more than $50,000 in three years from the commercial sale of illicit dogfighting videos advertised in underground dogfighting magazines, Stevens wrote a book called "Dogs of Velvet and Steel," which is a dogfighting manifesto and training manual. He's been a major figure within the criminal underworld of dogfighting for decades, and justice was done in convicting him and sentencing him to a term in federal prison.