Supreme Court Split over First Amendment Protection of Video Games [In Regards to Californian Law Blocking them]

Chris Burns - Nov 3, 2010
Supreme Court Split over First Amendment Protection of Video Games [In Regards to Californian Law Blocking them]

This is one of those issues I imagine will be hashed and re-hashed forevermore. Here’s one of those bigger times, when the Supreme Court of the US government has a little talk about it. The specific law at hand is one that was both brought up and struck down in 2005: a Californian law that bans those under 18 from buying or renting videogames that appeal to “a deviant or morbid interest in minors.” Deputy state attorney general Zackery Morazzini seeks to reinstate that law.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito do not agree on the issue at hand. Scalia asked “What’s next after violence? Drinking? Smoking?” and noted that the First Amendment was never thought to protect obscenity, but questioned weather the framers also envision an exception for “portrayals of violence”? Alito noted that video games “cannot possibly have been envisioned at the time when the First Amendment was ratified,” so it would be “entirely artificial” to assume they deserved the same constitutional protection as books.

Paul Smith, a Videogame industry attorney, noted that children’s stories have traditionally involved “graphic violence,” but not explicit sex. Chief Justice John Roberts did not agree, “We do not have a tradition in this country of telling children they should watch people actively hitting schoolgirls over the head with a shovel so they’ll beg with mercy, being merciless and decapitating them, shooting people in the leg so they fall down,” he said, reading a description of the video game “Postal 2,” “We protect children from that. We don’t actively expose them to that.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked why videogames were the only ones under fire here, “Or does your principle extend to all deviant, violent material in whatever form?” To which Morazzini noted that video games are picked on because they’re interactive.

Once the game Mortal Kombat was mentioned, all heck broke loose with Justice Kagan speaking thusly: “Mortal Kombat,” she responded, “is an iconic game which I am sure half of the clerks who work for us spent considerable amounts of time in their adolescence playing.” A decision on this law is expected before July of next year.

[Via the Wall Street Journal]

Must Read Bits & Bytes