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Justice Thomas Right But in the Minority on Violent Videos

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In a 7-2 vote, the US Supreme Court ruled Monday that it’s unconstitutional to ban kids from buying or renting violent video games, saying that despite fears the games may prompt children to emulate what’s seen in them, the government has no right to “restrict the ideas to which [they] may be exposed.”

The decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association upholds that of the 9th Circuit federal appeals court, which previously tossed out a California ban on the sale or rental of such games to minors.

 Never ones to agree on much, left-leaning Stephen Breyer and arch-conservative Clarence Thomas were the lone dissenting votes, but even their reasons for disagreeing with the majority differed.

Breyer felt the ruling creates conflict in the First Amendment since the court had previously upheld bans on the sale of pornography to kids and violent video games often contain nudity. Thomas simply said the court’s majority overextended the meaning of the First Amendment, adding, “The practices and beliefs of the founding generation establish that ‘the freedom of speech,’ as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.”

Not surprisingly, video game makers and sellers are pleased with the court’s decision, saying they now hold the same legal rights enjoyed by other forms of entertainment. “There now can be no argument whether video games are entitled to the same protection as books, movies, music, and other expressive entertainment,” said Bo Andersen, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association.

The video game industry already marks games considered violent with an “M” in an effort to alert parents to mature content.

“It’s disappointing the court didn’t understand just how violent these games are,” said child psychologist and California state senator Leland Yee, who wrote the video game ban. He said he’s reading the court’s dissents and hoping to find a way to re-introduce the law in a way that would be constitutional.

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