Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Can't Prohibit Sale of Violent Games

In this 7-2 opinion, the Supreme Court has struck down a California ban on sales of violent video games to minors. The result isn't at all surprising, though I'm guessing it will come as a shock to people like Roger "video games can never be art" Ebert. A few choice passages:

“‘From 1791 to the present,’ . . . the First Amendment has ‘permitted restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas,’ and has never ‘include[d] a freedom to disregard these traditional limitations.’” United States v. Stevens, 559 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 5) (quoting R. A. V. v. St. Paul, 505 U. S. 377, 382–383 (1992)). These limited areas—such as obscenity, Roth v. United States, 354 U. S. 476, 483 (1957), incitement, Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U. S. 444, 447–449 (1969) (per curiam), and fighting words, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U. S. 568, 572 (1942)—represent “well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem,” id., at 571–572.

NOTE: the above passage doesn't break any new ground. I just love it when the Supreme Court explains that the obscenity exception is well-defined and narrowly limited.

JUSTICE ALITO has done considerable independent research to identify, see post, at 14–15, nn. 13–18, video games in which “the violence is astounding,” post, at 14.

Yeah, researching...that's what he was doing...researching...

[in a footnote addressing studies purporting to link violent behavior and violent video games] 7One study, for example, found that children who had just finished playing violent video games were more likely to fill in the blank letter in “explo_e” with a “d” (so that it reads “explode”) than with an “r” (“explore”). App. 496, 506 (internal quotation marks omitted). The prevention of this phenomenon, which might have been anticipated with common sense, is not a compelling state interest.

Finally, another choice Scalia quote eviscerating California's purported rationale for the law:

California claims that the Act is justified in aid of pa-rental authority: By requiring that the purchase of violent video games can be made only by adults, the Act ensures that parents can decide what games are appropriate. At the outset, we note our doubts that punishing third partiesfor conveying protected speech to children just in casetheir parents disapprove of that speech is a proper gov-ernmental means of aiding parental authority. Accepting that position would largely vitiate the rule that “only inrelatively narrow and well-defined circumstances may government bar public dissemination of protected materi-als to [minors].” Erznoznik, 422 U. S., at 212–213.

All in all, a decision I agree with, and a nice way to end the term.