AAUP Joins Groups Opposing Harmful First Amendment Restrictions

July 30, 2009: The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) has joined librarians, publishers, writers, and other media groups in an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional a federal statute that they assert creates an overbroad exemption to the First Amendment. U.S. v. Stevens has been characterized as potentially the most dangerous First Amendment challenge of the past decade.

The law at issue (18 U.S.C. § 48) prohibits the creation, sale, or possession of “a depiction of animal cruelty” with “the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain,” if the act depicted is illegal where the depiction is created, sold, or possessed with intent to sell.

The statue effectively creates a new category of unprotected speech, a distinction previously made only for categories such as libel, threats, obscenity, and child pornography. The law provides an exception for works of “serious value,” but provides no definition of or guidance to determine “serious value.” Additionally, the provision does not require the jury to consider the work as a whole, allowing a depiction to be taken out of its context.

AAUP's members publish in every field of scholarship and letters, including works of art and art history, poetry, fiction, investigative journalism, and studies of cultural and industrial practices that may easily include depictions of cruelty to animals such as bullfighting or the inhumane treatment of farm animals. It is necessary that these types of speech remain protected by the First Amendment if scholarly presses are to continue to publish works including such depictions without fear of censorship.

Parties on the amicus brief include the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Express (ABFEE), PEN American Center, and other members of the Media Coalition.

Read the full text of the amicus brief here: http://www.publishers.org/main/PressCenter/Archicves/documents/Finalamicusbrief.pdf
ABFEE provides more information about how the statute threatens free speech: http://www.abffe.com/talkingpointsUSvStevens.html

April 20, 2010: In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the law in question, ruling that the law was too broad and would have created a new category of unprotected speech under the First Amendement. Read the Supreme Court opinion.

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