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Supreme Court rejects ban on sale of violent video games to minors

Grand Theft Auto IV

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning struck down a California law that would have banned the sale or rental of “violent” video games to minors, ruling that such a restriction violates the First Amendment.

With a 7-2 vote, the justices upheld a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the 2005 law, which never went into effect because of legal challenges but would have imposed $1,000 fines on businesses that sell violent games to those under the age of 18. According to ABC News, nine similar laws were passed across the nation, but all were blocked.

“Like books, plays and movies, video games communicate ideas,” Justice Antonin Scalia said in the courtroom. “The most basic principle of First Amendment law is that government has no power to restrict expression because of its content. [...] There is no tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. Certainly, the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — have no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed.”

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It’s 1954 all over again

Unlikely hero: Justice Antonin Scalia

Earlier this week, around the time I finished reading David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague, the U.S. Supreme Court, it seems, was re-enacting it. Well, at least a couple of scenes.

The Ten-Cent Plague tells the story of not one but several campaigns against comics on the grounds that they were violent and bad influences on children. And, to be fair, the crime and horror comics of the time were pretty damn gruesome, repulsive enough that a lot of folks were willing to set aside the First Amendment on the grounds that the Founding Fathers couldn’t possibly have envisioned the Crypt-Keeper, and they certainly wouldn’t want to defend that. Hajdu documents a flurry of legislation banning all sorts of comic books throughout the country, mostly promoted by people who genuinely cared about children (but who also seem to have forgotten that children have brains of their own).

A similar impulse led California legislators to pass a law in 2005 banning the sale of violent video games to anyone under 18, but the law was struck down by a lower court, because apparently you can only protect youngsters from sex, not violence. This led Justice Antonin Scalia to become the unlikely hero of video gamers everywhere, as he argued on Tuesday that while the First Amendment definitely wasn’t designed to protect obscenity, it should apply to everything else, even violence.

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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Supreme Court

Legal | The U.S. Supreme Court appeared divided Tuesday during oral arguments on a California law that would forbid the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor raised free-speech objections to the statute, with Ginsberg asking: “If you are supposing a category of violent materials dangerous to children, then how do you cut it off at video games? What about films? What about comic books?” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. indicated their belief that the state can restrict the access of minor to video games, while Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Elena Kagan probed the issues without showing their cards. It will probably be several months before the court hands down a decision. [Los Angeles Times, PC World]

Crime | A man charged with orchestrating the July theft of the expensive comics collection of an elderly Rochester, N.Y., man who was beaten and later died has been arrested by FBI agents for allegedly selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen merchandise on eBay. [The Daily News]

Crime | Police in Stamford, Conn., charged Spider-Man and Captain America with assault and Poison Ivy with breach of peace following a weekend brawl in a parking garage. [The Associated Press]

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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Supreme Court

Legal | The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on a California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The statute, which was struck down in February 2009 by a federal appeals court, is opposed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, among other organizations. [CNET]

Awards | The Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards will move next year from Toronto Comicon to the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. The seventh annual awards will be presented on June 18, 2011. [Joe Shuster Awards]

Conventions | Exhibitor tables have gone on sale for MoCCA Festival 2011, set for April 9-10 at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City. [MoCCA Festival]

Conventions | The student newspaper at California State University Long Beach reports on last weekend’s Long Beach Comic Con. [Daily 49er]

Retailing | Peter Hartlaub profiles James Sime, owner of Isotope comic book lounge in San Francisco: “Nobody made a comic store for women. They just didn’t exist. I think women love comics just as much as men do, maybe even more. And there’s so many great comics out there for everybody that I had to try. Isn’t San Francisco the city that’s all about just trying new things?” [San Francisco Chronicle]

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