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Profiles: Number Nine

Publication Date: 
January 11, 2010
Source: 
The New Yorker
Author: 
Lauren Collins

Lecturer in Law Thomas Goldstein is quoted in a New Yorker article profiling U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

On October 6th, at 10 A.M., Neal Katyal, an attorney for the Department of Justice, rose in front of the Supreme Court to argue the government’s position in the matter of United States v. Stevens. Standing at a mahogany lectern, surrounded by marble friezes of lawgivers—Draco, Hammurabi, Marshall—Katyal began his address, which, he announced, would amount to a four-pronged defense of Section 48 of Title 18 of the federal criminal code. The law, which Congress passed in 1999, had been intended to restrict certain depictions of animal cruelty. Chief among them were “crush videos,” in which small animals such as guinea pigs, kittens, hamsters, birds, and mice are taped or tied to the floor and—as a congressional report put it—stomped to “a bloody mass of fur” by women, often wearing spike heels, who “can be heard talking to the animals in a kind of dominatrix patter” (“What’s wrong, little man? Are you scared?”). The acts shown in the videos—“The Tales of Charlie’s Ankles,” “Smush”—were already illegal, but prosecutors had found it nearly impossible to identify the participants in the videos, and thus to enforce the existing laws. Congress responded by targeting the images, making it illegal, with some artistic and educational exceptions, to “knowingly create, sell, or possess . . . for commercial gain . . . any visual or auditory depiction . . . in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed.”

The law went unenforced until January, 2003, when Robert J. Stevens was arrested at his home, in Pittsville, Virginia. Stevens owned a business called Dogs of Velvet and Steel, and operated a Web site, pitbulllife.com, through which he sold dog-training paraphernalia and documentary films about pit bulls. Three of the films incorporated footage of dogs fighting. The government did not allege that Stevens had anything to do with staging or filming the fights. But, under Section 48, a jury found that his production and distribution of the films was criminal, and sentenced him to thirty-seven months in prison. An appeals court overturned the verdict.

...

Tom Goldstein, of Scotusblog, has found that, in ninety-seven race-related opinions, Sotomayor dissented from her colleagues four times, and only once (in the Gant case) saw racial discrimination where they did not.