UNITED STATES v. STEVENS

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
08-769
Petitioner 
United States
Respondent 
Robert J. Stevens
Advocates
(Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner)
(argued the cause for the respondent)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Robert Stevens was convicted under 18 U.S.C. Section 48 in a Pennsylvania federal district court for "knowingly selling depictions of animal cruelty with the intention of placing those depictions in interstate commerce for commercial gain." His conviction stems from an investigation into the selling of videos related to illegal dog fighting. Mr. Stevens appealed his conviction arguing that 18 U.S.C. Section 48, on its face, was unconstitutional because it violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with Mr. Stevens and reversed his conviction, holding unconstitutional 18 U.S.C. Section 48. The court reasoned that the dog fighting videos he sold were protected speech and that 18 U.S.C. Section 48 did not serve a compelling governmental interest.

Question 

Is 18 U.S.C. Section 48, on its face, unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment?

Conclusion 

Yes. The Supreme Court held that 18 U.S.C. § 48 is substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment. With Chief Justice John G. Roberts writing for the majority, the Court reasoned that depictions of animal cruelty are not categorically unprotected by the First Amendment. The Court further reasoned that because a "substantial number" of § 48's applications are unconstitutional, the law is overbroad and, thus, invalid.

Justice Samuel A. Alito dissented. He disagreed with the majority opinion arguing that § 48 was not intended to suppress speech, but rather to "prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty." He was concerned that the majority holding will practically legalize the sale of such videos and spur the resumption of their production.

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UNITED STATES v. STEVENS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 13 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2009/2009_08_769>.
UNITED STATES v. STEVENS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2009/2009_08_769 (last visited September 13, 2014).
"UNITED STATES v. STEVENS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 13, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2009/2009_08_769.