RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
The United States Supreme Court has made two dramatic decisions involving the First Amendment to the Constitution.
MONTAGNE: That amendment guarantees free speech and expression, and in a moment we'll hear how the court's majority applied it to a campaign finance rule.
INSKEEP: We begin with a ruling involving the free speech rights of children. The justices struck down a California law which banned the sale of violent video games to minors. Our coverage begins with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG: California's law imposes a $1,000 fine each time a violent video game is sold to a minor. As justification, the state cited�studies that showed kids who play these games for hours on end are desensitized to violence, and become more aggressive in their behavior. But the Supreme Court flatly rejected that argument and struck down the law.�
Although the vote was technically 7-2, the various concurring and dissenting opinions more closely resembled a 5-4 split, with liberal and conservative justices on both sides of the issue.�
If�traditional ideology was not a good predictor of how the votes were cast,�parenthood also seemed�to have little to do with who voted how.�Justice Antonin Scalia, father of nine and grandfather of 32 children, wrote the Court's opinion for five members of the Court.�
He said the government has no free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed. Video games, he said, are�like books, plays and movies. They communicate ideas, and the most basic principle of First Amendment law is that government has no power to restrict expression because of its content.�
While sexually explicit speech has traditionally been restricted by law in this country, he noted, there is no such tradition for depictions of�violence, even when conveyed to children.�
Indeed, as Scalia enthusiastically observed, the books that parents read to children have no shortage of gore. Hansel and Gretel bake the wicked witch to death in an oven, and for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is forced to dance in red-hot slippers 'til she falls down dead on the floor.�
Moving on to teenagers, Scalia pointed to books on�high school reading lists.� In Homer's�"The Odyssey," Odysseus blinds the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. And Dante's "Inferno" is filled with horrific, violent images.��
In truth, said Scalia, California's ban on violent video games is just the latest in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for� minors - be it dime-store novels, radio dramas, movies or even Superman comics, which in their time were portrayed as leading to juvenile delinquency.�
Joining Scalia's opinion were Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan.�
Proponents of the California ban took solace from the fact that since the law was enacted, the video game industry has moved aggressively to label certain games as unsuitable for children, and to voluntarily ban their sale to kids. James Steyer, CEO of Commonsense Media,�says the California law scared the video game industry into action.
Mr. JAMES STEYER (CEO, Commonsense Media): I think we definitely hit the industry over the head with a two-by-four. Over the last five or six years, the industry has become far more accountable, and much more careful, about selling those kind of games to minors.
TOTENBERG: But UCLA's Eugene Volokh says the decision gives kids a clear statement of their First Amendment rights.�
Professor EUGENE VOLOKH (UCLA): It reaffirms that children have very broad free speech rights.�
TOTENBERG: As Notre Dame's Richard Garnett put it...
Professor RICHARD GARNETT (University of Notre Dame): However harmful these games are, these are harms that the court seems to think the First Amendment doesn't let the government solve directly through regulation.
TOTENBERG: Justice Scalia's opinion took up just 18 pages.�But the concurring and dissenting opinions took up�56 pages - three times that much.�
Two justices - Samuel Alito and Chief Justice Roberts - agreed that the California law should be struck down, but on much narrower grounds. They spent most of their time decrying the gruesome content in some of these games -racist, anti-Semitic content - and the horrific blood and gore that the game players engage in. Said Alito: We should not jump to the conclusion that new technology is fundamentally the same as some older thing with which we are familiar.�
Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer each wrote a separate dissent. Thomas contended that because the founders of this nation believed parents had absolute authority over their children, it would be absurd to think that minors have any free speech rights at all.
Breyer took a different tack. He said the California law was no more than a modest restriction on expression and that the legislature - and not the judiciary - is best equipped to evaluate psychological studies on the effects of violent video games on youth.�
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.