WASHINGTON – 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.
“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?” Breyer said.
Video games, said Scalia’s majority opinion, are deserving of First Amendment free-speech protection.
Before leaving on their annual summer break, the justices also:
• Voted 5-4 to strike down a provision of a campaign financing system in Arizona that gives extra cash to publicly funded candidates who face privately funded rivals and independent groups.
• Agreed to hear arguments in the fall or winter on whether police need a warrant before using a Global Positioning System device to track a suspect’s movements.
• Refused to hear an appeal from former detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq who wanted to sue defense contractors over claims of abuse.