The fate of two free-speech cases illustrates the Supreme Court's divisions on key constitutional issues
The United States Supreme Court ended its term Monday with two major First Amendment decisions. In the first, the Court struck down a California law that sought to prohibit the sale of violent video games to minors. The ruling prompted strong dissents from one of the Court's most conservative members, Justice Clarence Thomas, and one of its most liberal members, Justice Stephen Breyer, who rarely agree on anything. It also once again brought out the latent parent in Justice Samuel Alito.
The second major decision Monday, involving an Arizona campaign finance law, offered a series of reminders--of the Court's dubious Ctizens United ruling, of its passionate embrace of broad First Amendment principles in political cases, and of the challenges clean-election advocates face in reforming the system. The Court's conservatives, in a far-reaching 5-4 ruling, struck down a legislative scheme designed to reduce political corruption by providing "matching funds" from public coffers to candidates who eschew private contributions.
The violent video game case, styled Brown v. Entertainment Merchants' Assn, has gotten a lot of coverage over the years, because so many minors play violent video games, and because one of California's justifications was that there is an "interactive" feature in playing the games that distinguishes it from typical objects of First Amendment law. In other words, because kids are actually pulling a trigger on their hand-held consoles to kill their on-screen targets, California argued that it had a broader and more compelling interest in limiting the sales of violent games to minors.