A company that broadcasts cockfights on the Internet filed suit yesterday to challenge a largely untested federal law that makes it a crime to sell depictions of animal cruelty, the New York Times reports. Cockfighting is illegal in 49 states, and last month Louisiana legislators, where the practice is still allowed, passed a bill that would outlaw it there next year. Animal protection advocates call the practice barbaric and cruel. The question of whether the First Amendment allows the government to ban depictions of illegal conduct, as opposed to the conduct itself, is a difficult one, legal experts said. The company that sued in Florida says it broadcasts cockfights from Puerto Rico, where they are legal.
The constitutionality of the same law is at issue in a case before the federal appeals court in Philadelphia. It involves a Virginia man who was sentenced to three years in prison for selling videotapes of dog fights. The law, enacted in 1999 and signed by President Bill Clinton, makes it a crime to sell depictions of animal cruelty for commercial gain. There is an exception for works of “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.” Law Prof. Eugene Volokh of the University of California in Los Angeles believes the law is unconstitutional, saying, “The speech does not fall into any existing First Amendment exception.”