Animal cruelty: actually, you don’t have to make a federal case out of it

Animal cruelty: actually, you don’t have to make a federal case out of it November 7, 2019
from Pixabay; https://pixabay.com/en/dogs-puppies-play-two-group-1210323/

Let me start by saying that I am not pro-animal cruelty.

I object to the intentional injury of animals for sport.

I’d even agree that it’s reasonable to criminalize such actions, though I think it’s an open question how harsh the punishment should be, especially since many of the objections cited are a sort of “pre-crime” (many murderers have a past of animal cruelty) and since the focus, in other respects, is reducing the degree to which we imprison people.

But absent some compelling reason to the contrary, criminal law is made by states, not the federal government.

The federal government doesn’t get involved in murder, or rape, or theft.  Or arson.  Or DUI.  Or shoplifting.  The requirements for federal involvement are that the crime have an interstate element to it.

Which means that the 2010 Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act was kinda-sorta a reasonable federal law, since the sharing of videos of animal abuse is pretty much inherently an interstate commerce-related act.

But now, as reported by Fox News, Congress has banned animal torture regardless of whether it has this video-making element or not.

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act says,

It shall be unlawful for any person to purposely engage in animal crushing in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

And “animal crushing” is defined as

actual conduct in which one or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury (as defined in section 1365 and including conduct that, if committed against a person and in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, would violate section 2241 or 2242);

With respect to penalties:

Whoever violates this section shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 7 years, or both.

And there are exceptions for animal husbandry, hunting, pest control, medical research, self-defense, or euthanizing of animals.

But this is as much an example of “Congress is broken” as the countless ways in which they fail to get things done.

This is a feel-good law, a bit of theater.  Is there any intention to assess whether any specific instance has anything to do with interstate commerce, or is this just weasel language to claim jurisdiction?  (“He killed a dog which would have otherwise eaten dog food purchased through interstate commerce.”  “The implements he used to harm the animal are of the kind sold at national chain stores so this is interstate commerce-related.”)  What would a judge do with the guidance of “up to 7 years”?   Under what circumstances would local authorities pass a case onto the federal government?  Or what mechanisms would the federal government use to get involved?

And a unanimous vote?  That says that every single member of Congress felt obliged to go along because they fear they’re at risk of voters thinking they support animal cruelty, otherwise.  And, let’s face it, they’re likely perfectly happy with appropriating more power for themselves rather than state governments.

So – ugh.


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