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Dogfight Video Tests Limits of Free Speech

The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on whether videos of illegal dogfights are protected speech. Marcia Coyle offers insight.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The justices took up a free-speech case involving the sale of dogfight videos. Here to walk us through today's arguments is NewsHour regular Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal.

    Marcia, two days in a row. Good to have you back with us.

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    Nice to see you again, Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So how is dogfighting connected to free speech?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Well, Congress in 1999 passed a law making it a crime to create, possess, or sell videos or other images of animal cruelty. Robert Stevens, a Virginia resident, was convicted in 2004 of selling videos of dogfighting.

    He challenged his conviction, he appealed it in court, and he won his appeal. A lower court found that this 1990 law was unconstitutional, that it violated the First Amendment's free speech guarantees.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So this has become a major test of speech?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    It is. As you know, Judy, the First Amendment doesn't protect all speech. Over the years, the Supreme Court has recognized certain categories of unprotected speech, like obscenity. And the last time it recognized a special category was back in 1982, when it held that depictions of children engaged in sexual acts — this is child pornography — violated the First Amendment.

    So now the government, the Obama administration has come to the court asking it to save this 1999 statute, that it is constitutional under the First Amendment, that it's much like the child pornography category.