Tag Archives: United States Supreme Court

Supreme Court Strikes Down Calif. Video Game Law

Reprinted from my blog, Cyber-Esq.  The full Supreme Court opinion is in the Box under “Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Video Game Case:”

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 7-2 opinion, that a 2005 California law aimed at banning the sale of violent video games to children went too far.  Created by California state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), the law imposed a fine of up to $1,000 on retailers found to be in violation.  However, because of the litigation, the law never went into effect.

This is the highest-level decision to date on the subject of legal restrictions on violent video games.  In the wake of the Court’s decision, one thing is now clear – video games are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as books, plays and movies.  Moreover, the Court emphasized that First Amendment protections are subject only to historically limited categories of speech such as obscenity, incitement or fighting words.  These protections do not wane with the advent of new technologies.  As a result, the state – as California did – cannot create a wholly new category of speech that is unlawful unless it can meet the “strict scrutiny” test; i.e., justify its law with a “compelling state interest.”

On the question of “strict scrutiny,” the Court found that California failed to meet its burden.  Of specific interest, the Court doubted the strength of psychological evidence that claims such games cause children to behave violently or aggressively, at least more than any other available media.  In addition, the Court found that the voluntary rating system – known as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board‘s (ESRB) classification system – already achieved the needs of parents without the government enacting legislation that infringes on free speech.

According to an article in ZDNet:

“the majority of video game resellers in the United States – including major retailers like GameStop and Best Buy – support the use of the…(ESRB) classification system, which rates games based on content and applies an age rating, which is featured on the video game box. It’s a purely voluntary system modeled after the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings for movies.”

What do you think of the Court’s decision?  In particular, the Court mentioned the fact that California had not limited access to “Saturday morning cartoons” in support of its decision, indicating that this raised the possibility that the state was singling out a particular industry or speaker for sanction.  Is this a defensible analogy to violent video games?

 

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Palin Blasts Supremes’ Support Of Anti-Gay Church

The Westboro Baptist Church picketing at the m...

Image via Wikipedia

On March 2, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket funerals, espousing anti-gay rhetoric such as “God Hates Fags,” “You’re Going to Hell” and, as shown in the picture here, “Fags Are Worthy Of Death.”  In an 8-1 vote, the Justices ruled that such behavior was protected speech under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.

In the case at issue, the church picketed the military funeral of Matthew Snyder.  Interestingly, Matthew was not gay.  Matthew’s father sued and obtained a $5 million verdict against the church, which has now been set aside.

Surprisingly, conservative politician/commentator, Sarah Palin, initially blasted the High Court’s decision on Twitter, tweeting:

Common sense & decency absent as wacko “church” allowed hate msgs spewed@ soldiers’ funerals but we can’t invoke God’s name in public square

Subsequently, in an interview with the Daily Caller, Palin sought to “clarify” her remarks, saying:

Obviously my comment meant that when we’re told we can’t say ‘God bless you’ in graduation speeches or pray before a local football game but these wackos can invoke God’s name in their hate speech while picketing our military funerals, it shows ridiculous inconsistency.

Assuming Palin’s frustration is genuine, which I do for purposes of this article, I can understand where she is coming from.  Frankly, I am saddened that she felt the need to so quickly, sort of retract/clarify herself.  Where she seems to be coming from is quite legitimate, if you ask me.  Why is that, in certain circumstances, we cannot invoke religious verbiage or iconography – even if done so peacefully – but this rogue band of crazy, half-witted, inbred hate-mongers – pretending to be followers of Jesus Christ – get the full panoply of First Amendment freedoms?

As an attorney, I can – intellectually – comprehend the arguments on both sides.  On a personal level, I can even support the outcome, belonging as I do to a traditionally dis-enfranchised group that often needs First Amendment protection to make its own public case.  From a viewpoint based purely on political strategy, I can even see the benefit in exposing such idiots to the light of day rather than forcing them into the shadows where they fester like a stinking boil on the butt of Lady Liberty herself.

And yet, the difficulty I have – and which Palin may be trying her best to express – is that it does seem to be the case that this “church’s” hate-filled expression has received judicial imprimatur, while arguably neutral, civic expressions that merely touch upon religion are so frequently scorned or called into legal question.

What message are we sending?  Peaceful, neutral expressions of faith are a no go.  But, hateful expression is in.  In my opinion, true Christians ought to be concerned about this decision.  And, this “church” ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Furthermore, if they truly believe in Hell, they ought to be very afraid.  As my granny would have said, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Jesus Wept

Breaking News! Justice John Paul Stevens To Retire This Summer

The legal world was met with the news this morning that Justice John Paul Stevens, the senior-most member of the U.S. Supreme Court will retire this summer. The ABA Journal Law News Now released an interesting article this morning detailing two of Justice Stevens’ top cases while serving on the High Court.
clipped from www.abajournal.com

Stevens’ Top Cases:
Rasul v. Bush (2004) and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006)

Rasul v. Bush (2004) and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006)

Rasul let Guantanamo Bay detainees challenge their imprisonment in federal courts; Hamdan “invalidated the use of military commissions, rejecting the Bush administration’s claim to unlimited executive power.” (Lawrence Rosenthal, clerk, 1983-1984) “The cases changed the framework of the way the U.S. fought terrorism.” (Joseph Thai, clerk, 2000-2001)

AP Photo

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Gestational Surrogates Win Custody In New Jersey And Michigan

Gestational surrogates in two states, New Jersey and Michigan, have successfully won custody of the children to whom they gave birth.  Unlike standard surrogacy arrangements, gestational surrogacy is an arrangement where the birth mother agrees to carry the pregnancy to delivery after having been implanted with an embryo to which she typically has no genetic relationship.  For an excellent discussion of surrogacy laws and arrangements, both in the U.S. and internationally, you can link to a Wikipedia article here.

In the New Jersey case, Angelia G. Robinson agreed in 2006 to carry a fertilized embryo for her brother and his same-sex partner, which they had fertilized with the partner’s sperm.  Subsequently, raising allegations that she was coerced into the arrangement, Angelia sought custody of the child.  Superior Court Judge Francis Schultz sided with Angelia, relying primarily on an earlier New Jersey Supreme Court case, In re Baby M. (1988) 109 N.J. 396, 536 A.2d 1227.  A PDF copy of the Baby M. case is in the Box for those interested.

In a similar development, Michigan couple Amy Kehoe and her husband Scott arranged for the use of a gestational surrogate, Laschell Baker, after acquiring an egg and sperm from third parties.  Baker successfully sought custody of the twins borne of the pregnancy, claiming that she took action upon learning that one of the parents had been treated for mental illness.

An excellent discussion and comments on these cases can be found at Jonathan Turley‘s blog here.  Another excellent article can be found at The Huffington Post, written by Jacob M. Appel, here.

What are your thoughts on these kinds of cases?  Should Angelia have won any custody rights when she was not biologically related to the child?  Are these cases examples of CIVIL RIGHTS or CIVIL WRONGS?

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