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Unintentional Comedy from the Supreme Court Hearing on Video Games

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday heard Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Assn, which tests the limits of free speech insofar as its application to the regulation of violent video games. 

The justices on the high court expanded the debate by considering the government's role in protecting minors from all sorts of "deviant" entertainment content, including movies, rap music, comic books and fairy tales.

By the tenor of the questioning, it appears that the court will not fall on traditional liberal-conservative voting blocs here. Some justices (Scalia, Sotomayor, Kagan) seemed skeptical of broad free speech intrusion. Other justices (Alito, Roberts, Breyer) appeared to lean towards trying to find a way to uphold the law.

Here's the full transcript.

And just for kicks, here are the unintentionally funniest lines from the justices during the proceedings:

  1. Justice Alito getting a sly dig at his colleague over "original intent" in the U.S. Constitution: "I think what Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games. Did he enjoy them?"
  2. Justice Kagan, the junior member of the high court, trying to show she's hip: "You think Mortal Kombat is prohibited by this statute? It's a candidate, meaning, a reasonable jury could find that Mortal Kombat, which is an iconic game, which I am sure half of the clerks who work for us spent considerable amount of time in their adolescence playing."
  3. Justice Breyer creating, excuse the pun, a tortured metaphor about a 13-year-old playing video games depicting violence: "I have tried to take as bad a [scenario] as I could think of, gratuitous torture of children. OK. Now, you can't buy a naked woman, but you can go and buy that, you say to the 13-year-old. Now, what sense is there to that?"
  4. Justice Scalia muses about whether it would be a good thing to let juries act as censors: "Juries are not controllable. That's the wonderful thing about juries, also the worst thing about juries."
  5. Just about anything out of the mouth of Justice Sotomayor, including these questions:
  • "One of the studies, the Anderson study, says that the effect of violence is the same for a Bugs Bunny episode as it is for a violent video. So can the legislature now, because it has that study, say we can outlaw Bugs Bunny?"
  • "Could you get rid of rap music? Have you heard some of the lyrics of some of the rap music...?"
  • "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?"
  • "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?"
  • "What happens when the character gets maimed, head chopped off and immediately after it happens they spring back to life and they continue their battle? Is that covered by your act?"