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Court Hear's Crush Video Case

A law banning videos and other depictions of animal cruelty may have a tough time passing Supreme Court muster, according to a Scotusblog accounting of oral argument Tuesday, one of the first involving new Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

The law had been thrown out by the Third Circuit court of Appeals

Journalism groups have joined some film producers and publishers to urge the Supreme Court not to reinstate the law that makes it a crime to create, own or distribute a variety of depictions of animal cruelty.

The groups, which include the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press, filed an amicus brief with the court in advance of the arguments, arguing themselves that the law could be applied to speech documenting cruelty, such as dog fighting, which is much in the news lately with the possible reinstatement to the NFL of former quarterback Michael Vick, who served time for dog fighting.

According to the Scotus analysis by law firm Akin Gump, the Justices used hypotheticals from bull fighting to making foie gras out of geese to suggest the law was overbroad and beyond original congressional intent.

Arguing for the Obama administration, deputy soliticor general Neal Katyal countered that Congress had narrowly targetted the law to shut down a market in "crush videos."

While one First Amendment attorney recently polled said he thought the case did not have wide-ranging First Amendment implications, the Media Coalition, which includes Independent Film & Television Alliance and Independent Filmmaker Project, though not the Motion Picture Association of America, calls it "one of the most important free speech cases to be argued in 25 years," and says the Obama administration take creates a "unique excpetion to the First Amendment" and gives the government "substantial power to decide whether certain words and images are worthy of First Amendment protection."

The case, U.S. v. Stevens, involved Robert J. Stevens, who was sentenced to 37 months in prison in 2004 by a Pennsylvania federal court for selling videos of pit bulls fighting and training to hunt boar.