Supreme Arguments

Video Games have their day before the Supreme Court.

On November 2, the case of “Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, et al., Petitioners v. Entertainment Merchants Association, et al.” (docket # 08-1448) was argued in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Oral arguments began at 10:04am and lasted exactly an hour (until 11:04am).  The format was an initial argument by the petitioners (California), followed by a response from the respondents (EMA), and then a rebuttal by the petitioners.  Each side is represented by one (speaking) attorney, and the Justices interrupt them (and each other) at whim with questions and arguments.

As discussed originally in my post, Video Games facing Supreme Court review, the case concerns the law passed in California that would prohibit sales of games with “deviant violence” to anyone under 18 years of age.  The law never went into effect and was ruled unconstitutional by two lower courts before being appealed to the Supreme Court.  Hopefully, as discussed at Meaningful Play 2010, this case will put the legal question to rest once and for all and allow the industry to have an open debate.

Surprisingly, the transcript of the oral arguments in the case (PDF) is actually fairly entertaining to read.  The Justices are nowhere near as dry as one might expect, and there were moments of actual laughter.  The case is also very interesting in the fact that the normal ideological lines of conservative versus liberal seem to break down, so there are no easy predictions as to how individual Justices may vote (and Clarence Thomas did not speak at all).  In fact, press reports differ on which way the Court may be leaning.

Here are a few of my favorite moments from the oral arguments in this case:

“I’m concerned about the producer of the games who has to know what he has to do in order to comply with the law.  […]  But a law that has criminal penalties has to be clear.  And how is the manufacturer to know whether a particular violent game is covered or not?” — Justice Antonin Scalia

“Well, I think what Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games.” — Justice Samuel Alito

“Would a video game that portrayed a Vulcan as opposed to a human being, being maimed and tortured, would that be covered by the act?” [answer: “No, it wouldn’t…”]  “So if the video producer says this is not a human being, it’s an android computer simulated person, then all they have to do is put a little artificial feature on the creature and they could sell the video game?” [answer: “Under the act, yes…”] — Justice Sonia Sotomayor

For more coverage, you can listen to the story from National Public Radio (or read the NPR transcript) or see the associated stories in the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, or read the story on Kotaku for a perspective from the game media.

A ruling on the case in expected by June, 2011.

3 thoughts on “Supreme Arguments

  1. Pingback: U.S. Supreme Court supports video game freedom of speech » Gamecraft - computer game software development and programming

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