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Supreme Court justices on Tuesday indicated that a federal law aimed at graphic videos of dog fights and other acts of animal cruelty goes too far in limiting free speech rights.

The court heard argument on the Obama administration's appeal to reinstate a 10-year-old law that bans the production and sale of the videos. A federal appeals court struck down the law and invalidated the conviction of Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Va., who was sentenced to three years in prison for videos he made about pit bull fights.

Several justices suggested that the law is too broad and could apply, for instance, to people who make films about hunting.

"Why not do a simpler thing?" Justice Stephen Breyer asked an administration lawyer. "Ask Congress to write a statute that actually aims at the frightful things they were trying to prohibit."

But the lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal, said Congress was careful to exempt hunting, educational, journalistic and other depictions from the law. Katyal urged the justices not to wipe away the law in its entirety, but to allow courts to decide on a case-by-case basis whether videos are prohibited.

When Congress passed the law and then-President Bill Clinton signed it in 1999, lawmakers were especially interested in limiting Internet sales of so-called crush videos, which appeal to a certain sexual fetish by showing women crushing to death small animals with their bare feet or high-heeled shoes.


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