The statute’s language was broad enough that it could conceivably have applied to depictions of lawful hunting.
The Supreme Court rejected arguments that the statute could be saved by construing it more narrowly than its plain language would suggest, as Bill Clinton advocated doing in a presidential signing statement.
The justices rejected the idea that the statute was OK because it contained an exception (or safe harbor) for speech that has serious political or artistic value. (Obscenity laws are deemed to be OK by the Supreme Court because they contain such an exception, but the Court said obscenity law is different, because obscenity was considered unprotected speech at the time the First Amendment was drafted.)
The Supreme Court also rejected the idea that speech restrictions can be upheld whenever they pass a cost-benefit balancing test.
In dissent, Justice Alito argued that the statute should be interpreted narrowly not to reach things like depictions of hunting, and then upheld in order to enable Congress to wipe out the “crush video industry,” which he argued was “closely linked” to actual violence against animals committed precisely in order to produce those videos.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court issued another First Amendment ruling, that struck down restrictions on corporations and unions spending money to criticize politicians.