Ethics Quote of the Week: Justice Antonin Scalia

“Justice Alito recounts all these disgusting video games in order to disgust us — but disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.” 

Justice Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in the majority opinion of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that over-turned a California law restricting the access of children to violent video games. Scalia was responding to the argument by conservative colleague Joseph Alito, who described the wide range of violent and offensive experiences a child could have though video-gaming, such as reenacting the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech,  raping Native American women or killing ethnic and religious minorities.

Scalia is the Supreme Court justice liberals love to hate, but he is the most stalwart defender of the First Amendment since Justice William O. Douglas and Justice Hugo Black on the Warren Court. As political warfare increasingly focuses on the tactic of suppressing and inhibiting speech and ideas rather than rebutting them, Scalia’s uniform rejection of any effort to squelch the free exchange of ideas, even disgusting ideas, is the last line of defense against government-imposed political correctness, nanny state thought control, and puritan censorship. While sufficiently important ends, such as protecting our children and our culture, may justify some extreme means, Scalia’s opinion reaffirms the core American principle that those means can never include government restriction of speech in its broadest definition.

Justice Douglas would have approved.

Those who have suggested that Justice Scalia’s vote in support of unrestricted campaign advocacy by organizations in the much-reviled Citizens United case was motivated by political bias rather than dedication to principle ought to read his opinion here, and then send him a letter of apology. Every citizen’s liberty is more secure because this Justice refuses to regard the regulation of Free Speech as a legitimate tool of social or political engineering, regardless of the justification.

8 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of the Week: Justice Antonin Scalia

  1. “Raping Native American women?” Is he talking about Custer’s Revenge from 1982? That’s like judging films based on Birth of a Nation. It would have been a little strange for him to bring up a game as old as Night Trap, let alone that fossil.

    I think Scalia was also the justice who said that it wasn’t their place to say that the 2nd Amendment was obsolete. Good for him.

    • This. But the judges themselves are fossils, I can’t blame them for not recognizing the evolution of taste in video games. These are the examples that have always dominated the video game “debate”, so that’s what Justice Alito is familiar with.

      Also of note is that the video game industry is one of the very few that can effectively police itself. Nearly all merchants observe ESRB guidelines to begin with, so the law was a waste of valuable legislator time to begin with.

  2. While sufficiently important ends, such as protecting our children and our culture, may justify some extreme means…

    I hope you don’t mean “protecting our children” like that phrase is most commonly used. That’s how we get sex offender registries.

    I also have issues with attempting to protect our culture through extreme means. I can’t think of a single right I’d be willing to abridge to protect our culture.

  3. Scalia voted with the majority in Morse v. Frederick, better known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case, which held that a school administrator could punish a student for expressive conduct outside of school. So let’s not go too crazy celebrating Scalia’s love of free expression.

    • That’s not quite right. The majority ruled that the speech was at a school event, and therefore treated like inside school speech, which is not, by well-established precedent, protected by the First Amendment. Neither Scalia nor the Court would approve restrictions on out of school expression.

  4. If one wants to take “ugly” video games off the market, let’s take “Criminal Minds ” (the sickest) off the airways as well. There are others; I’m just too tired to name them.

    Should Kubrick’s movies have been banned? Who says so?

    Just because the technology has changed and kids sit in their rooms playing these games doesn’t have one iota of impact on free speech. I’m just old enough that “Pacman” — gobbling up creatures as fast as one can tho albeit less graphic — was ALL ABOUT KILLING, WAS IT NOt?

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