In a 7-2 vote the Supreme Court threw out California’s ban on the rental or sale of violent video games to children. The decision was not much of a surprise as other laws have faced similar fates in the federal court.
Supporters of the California law argued that exposure to violent video games can cause children to become more aggressive over time. The violent idea, supporters claim, can become the source of violent behavior.
But those opposed to the ban argue that even if that social argument is true, a point they did not readily concede, it is not the role of government to act as a gatekeeper against such exposure. Rather, opponents of the ban argued, that job falls squarely to the parents.
The Court agreed, holding that the law violated minors’ rights under the First and the Fourteenth amendments.
Currently six other states have similar laws restricting minors’ access to violent video games. The California law targeted video games that give the player the option of “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” The law covered only those games where the acts are shown in a way that a “reasonable person” would find appealing to a “deviant or morbid interest of minors.” If the content would violate community standards on what minors should see, if the content lacks serious value, and if the player can inflict injury through “torture or serious physical abuse” of a human-like figure.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that the evidence was just not persuasive enough to recognize restricting the content of certain games in this case. While the First Amendment certainly contains some limitations, violence has never been treated the same as obscenity which is not entitled to First Amendment protections.
Justice Scalia also noted that holding violence in the same league as obscenity would have some unintended consequences as everything from Grimm’s Fairy Tales to Hansel and Gretel are filled with violent images.
Justice Scalia’s opinion was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justices Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with the outcome but on different grounds while Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer dissented.
photo courtesy of Collin Allen via Flickr