Supreme Court: California Should Not Usurp Parents’ Role

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A California law that would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors was struck down by the Supreme Court today. The issue centered around First Amendment rights and so-called consumer protection laws.

The original law was so broad that many observers thought the decision striking it down would be unanimous. In the end, two justices dissented from the decision. The decision written by Antonin Scalia centered on parental rights:

“As a means of assisting concerned parents it (the law) is seriously overinclusive because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents (and aunts and uncles) think violent video games are a harmless pastime,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority.

The state said it had to step in to protect children from graphic images because the industry had failed to do so. But the justices said the existing voluntary rating system was more than adequate for parents to judge appropriateness of computer game content.

Justice Stephen Breyer also talked about parental rights, although I didn’t quite understand his logic here:

“The First Amendment does not disable government from helping parents make such a choice here — a choice not to have their children buy extremely violent, interactive games,” he wrote.

I guess “helping parents make a choice” here = banning the sale of a product.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, known the world over for his thoughtful concern for children, signed the law in 2005 but a federal appeals court had tossed it last year before it could take effect.

The coalition overturning the law included Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with the decision but had quibbles.

California specifically mentioned the game “Postal 2” as a game that would be banned from children. Other games listed as being of concern were “Full Spectrum Warrior” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.” Apparently all of these games have a lot of violence and gore.

While I oppose violent video games so much that we’ll probably never have a gaming system in our house, I applaud this decision that enables parents to decide what’s best for their children rather than having the state of California make parenting decisions in place of parents. That is never a good idea and it never stops at just pulpy novels or Tom & Jerry and violent video games.