Schwarzenegger vs EMA: What the Supreme Court said on California's video game law

The big Schwarzenegger vs EMA case kicked off at the United States Supreme Court yesterday. Here's how it went.


The big Schwarzenegger vs EMA case kicked off at the United States Supreme Court yesterday. Here's how it went.

The Good

The case opened with a healthy dose of scepticism from the Court as to whether or not the California law criminalizing the sale of violent video games to minors had merit. California Attorney General Zackery Morazzini started off with an explanation of the law and its intent to protect children from the negative effects of violent video games.

Justice Antonin Scalia pounced on that straightaway:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Some of the Grimm's fairy tales are quite grim, to tell you the truth.

MR. MORAZZINI: Agreed, Your Honor. But the level of violence -

JUSTICE SCALIA: Are they okay? Are you going to ban them, too?

MR. MORAZZINI: Not at all, Your Honor.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: What's the difference? I mean, if you are supposing a category of violent materials dangerous to children, then how do you cut it off at video games? What about films? What about comic books? Grimm's fairy tales?

Additionally, Justices quizzed both presenting attorneys on alternatives to the law such as parental controls built into consoles (Morazzini points out they can be easily bypassed) or putting M-rated video games on the top shelves at retailers "out of the reach of children."

The Bad

As sceptical as some of the Justices seemed to be, some of them did appear to find merit to the argument that violence in games is harmful to children. A few also didn't seem convinced that the $50 price tag on most games would deter minors from purchasing an M-rated game.

Here's a particularly harrowing line of argument attorney Paul Smith (arguing against the law) had to navigate during his arguments:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I know that cigarettes are not speech, Mr. Smith. Cigarettes are something that we have determined are harmful to children. The question is, you say the record doesn't support the idea that these video games are harmful to children. Some of us may conclude that it does.

MR. SMITH: Well, truly the record doesn't support it. The record says that if - even if you take the studies at face value, it is not one more whit less more harmful than watching television cartoons. That's what the record shows.

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