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The Court and Violent Video Games

[ 12 ] June 27, 2011 |

I basically endorse Adam’s take on today’s other big decision, in which the Supreme Court struck down a California law restricting the commercial availability of violent video games to minors. While I tweeted a joke about how Cornell’s Legal Information Institute included only the good parts of Breyer’s dissent (which can actually be read here), he does in fact have a valid point about the longstanding American violence/nudity double standard. (As Dwight Macdonald said in his review of Psycho, “Our censors…see nothing wrong in showing with intimate, suggestive detail a helpless woman being stabbed to death, but had Mr. Hitchcock ventured to show one of Janet Leigh’s nipples, that would have been a serious offense against morals and decency.”) It’s just that the right answer is to level up to more free speech rather than leveling down to less.

In addition to Breyer splitting with his liberal colleagues, the fissures among the Court’s conservatives were also evident. Thomas, consistently applying the radical views about the applicability of the Bill of Rights to minors that recently led him to the conclusion that the Fourth Amendment permits the arbitrary strip-search of teenage girls by state officials, dissented because of his belief that freedom of speech “does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.” Scalia — by his own admission a “faint-hearted originalist” — brushes off Thomas in a footnote.

This case is also another example of Alito and Roberts’s disinterest in grand theory, rejecting both Thomas’s originalism and seeking a more “minimalist” approach than Scalia’s preference for clear rules. George W. Bush’s appointees agreed that the California law was unconstitutional but wanted a narrower approach that would permit further state experimentation, an argument Scalia has some fun with. The majority is right to reject this approach for its chilling effects on free speech, although I wish they could also see the similar chilling effects and arbitrary censorship that has resulted from trying to apply balancing tests to evaluate state regulations of obscene materials.

Comments (12)

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  1. efgoldman says:

    Apparently Mr. Justice Thomas is so much an originalist, that he doesn’t believe that any amendment added to the document under its own internal procedures is invalid.
    Which of course means that he is only 3/5 of a justice. Without the right to vote on anything. And his wife Ginnie makes two.

    • efgoldman says:

      Uurgh. Sorry for the double negative.
      This:

      …he doesn’t believe that any amendment added to the document under its own internal procedures is invalid.

      Should read “he doesn’t believe that any amendment added to the document under its own internal procedures is valid.”
      [We need an edit function.]

  2. hv says:

    Great graphic for people who are easily entertained, like me.

  3. Scott P. says:

    This is why Scalia, though not a justice I would have ever nominated, deserved confirmation while Thomas and Alito did not.

  4. Jason says:

    Just to reinforce your post, Scott, there is this MMO called “Age of Conan,” basic fantasy swords and sorcery game. The big outrage when the game came out was that you could see women’s boobies and their nipples – not the fact that you could chop off limbs, see fountains of blood, and conduct “finishing” moves a la “Mortal Kombat.” Silliness.

  5. Pinko Punko says:

    Scott, I don’t know anything about this case, but how often has the court gone 5-4, with Thomas joining the liberal wing? Was there a cross burning case or something? I was shocked to see this.

    And what was the Howard K. Stern case about, and why would that go 5-4? I didn’t have time to read, but I assume something about Anna Nicole Smith and the dead, rich, old guy.

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