Torture, maiming, decapitating, and urinating on human beings are rare topics in Supreme Court arguments. The justices heard about them yesterday as they entered the world of video gaming in a First Amendment challenge to a California law, the National Law Journal reports. By the end of arguments replete with references to Postal 2, Mortal Kombat, and other games – several justices appeared sympathetic to California’s effort to prohibit the sale and rental of violent video games to minors.
Others seemed uneasy about creating a First Amendment exception for violence, an exception that could swallow books, movies, and other violence-laden forms of expression. “Why are video games special?” asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “How do you cut it off?” California enacted its statute in 2005, but it has never been enforced. Trade groups for video game manufacturers and distributors challenged the law before it took effect. A lower court judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the act violated the First Amendment. “The problem is there has been societal consensus on what’s offensive sexual material and there have been judicial decisions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said, noting that the case involves “an entirely new area where there is no consensus, no judicial opinions. And this to me indicates the statute is vague.”