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Well folks, it's official. The United States Supreme Court issued a ruling today in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association). In a 7-2 ruling, the court upheld previous rulings by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the District Court for the Northern District of California which declared California AB 1792 & 1793 to be unconstitutional. The bills would have made it a crime to sell "violent" video games to minors, punishable by law (and up to $1,000 in fines). They would also have required new labeling above and beyond what the ESRB requires, and they would have set up a new definition of "violent video game" based on the Miller Test. The state of California maintained that violent video games (per its own definition of the term), were not protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, as it turns out, disagreed.
Now, here's my thoughts on the issue, as well as bits I'd like to highlight:
- First, and let my detractors pay special attention: I was wrong. I had predicted (correctly) that the Supreme Court would be overturned. However, I incorrectly predicted the vote totals. I'd figured the law would be struck down by a 5-4 ruling, along ideological lines, with the five conservative justices (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) ruling against the law, and the four liberals (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) voting in favor of upholding it. I was wrong. It was 7-2, with both the majority and the dissent being bi-partisan. The seven in the majority were (by seniority) Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Four conservatives and three liberals. The two dissenting justices were Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer, which surprised the heck out of me, because normally the only time you see those two on the same side of a ruling is in unanimous rulings.
- The majority opinion was written by Scalia, which is awesome, because Scalia is incredible at this stuff. In it, Scalia stated quite clearly that video games are a distinct form of communications media, and as such, are afforded full protection under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Among the tidbits from Scalia's opinion are the following:
- "Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore" - Scalia made this statement in support of his argument that America has no history of regulating violent content towards children (unlike obscenity), and pointing out the violence in children's stories like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and Snow White (the original versions, not the Disney flicks).
- "[T]he same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated `E' or even when they `view a picture of a gun... Of course, California has (wisely) declined to restrict Saturday morning cartoon, the sale of games rated for young children, or the distribution of pictures of guns."
- Thomas' Dissent threw me a bit, but whatever. He had his reasoning. I'm just glad with how this fascinating case turned out. Yay video games!