The Supremes take on Doom

27 04 2010

So the big California case about selling violent games to kids will be heading to the Supremes.  The New York Times has this:

Lower courts have consistently struck down similar laws under the First Amendment, declining to extend obscenity principles to images of violence. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case in the absence of disagreements in the lower courts suggests that at least some justices might be prepared to rethink how the First Amendment applies to depictions of violence, at least when they are sold to children.

The 2005 California law at issue in the case imposes $1,000 fines on stores that sell violent video games to people under 18. The law defines violent games as those “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” in a way that is “patently offensive,” appeals to minors’ “deviant or morbid interests” and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, struck down the law, rejecting what Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, writing for the panel, called “an invitation to reconsider the boundaries of the legal concept of ‘obscenity’ under the First Amendment.”

The law cited seems to use the same phrasing that we use for obscenity in our case law.  However, does it go too far?

Note that the appellate court stated that obscenity jurisprudence applies only to “sex-based expression” as opposed to violent content.  On the one hand, some of these games (I’m looking at you, Grand Theft Auto series) contain both kinds of content, and they could arguably be classified as obscene under that theory.  On the other hand, why extend the obscenity concept any further?

The larger question I ask is why this law is even necessary.  It would be simple enough to ask potential consumers at a Gamestop to show some ID if they want to buy the latest blood-spurting shoot-’em-up, and would avoid any more unnecessary intrusion by the state into private affairs.*

*Yes, I know California has a bit of a budget crisis, but that shouldn’t give them license to pull shenanigans like this.

A simpler, and less intrusive method of ensuring that children don’t get their hands on these games would be for the parents to do their job and make sure their children don’t buy these games (or buy the games for them if they think their children can handle it).  We wouldn’t need one of these “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!” – type laws on the books, and everybody would be happy.

I wonder where Jack Thompson is in all of this.

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