Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blue Law Blues: CA Video Game Ban Struck Down

The most predictable Supreme Court decision of this term may have been the Court's ruling that, no, a state - even California! - can't ban the sale and rental of "violent" video games to minors AKA The Children. The only real surprise was that the dissent united Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer. Has that ever happened before?

States cannot ban the sale or rental of ultraviolent video games to children, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, rejecting such limits as a violation of young people's First Amendment rights and leaving it up to parents and the multibillion-dollar gaming industry to decide what kids can buy.

The high court, on a 7-2 vote, threw out California's 2005 law covering games sold or rented to those under 18, calling it an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia, said, "Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply."

Scalia, who pointed out the violence in a number of children's fairy tales, said that while states have legitimate power to protect children from harm, "that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."

Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, with Breyer saying it makes no sense to legally block children's access to pornography yet allow them to buy or rent brutally violent video games.

You have to wonder how it is that CA managed to pass a video-game ban of any sort. The legislature was made up of liberals and progressives who try to cultivate a hip, edgy rep in order to better Rock The Vote. The governor who signed the law made his fortune selling violent entertainment to teenagers. And one of CA's few productive industries is the entertainment industry. Of course, Hollywood has found itself competing with videogames, which have been outgrossing movies for quite some time now, so maybe there was some Tinsel Town support for this sort of thing.

Mostly, though, there's the spectacle of state lawmakers going through the trouble to ban videogames when they had to know their ban would be struck down as unconstitutional. It's almost as if the point was to make a splash and garner a few headlines in 2005 without worrying about what happens in 2011.

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