Teens, Porn and Videogames: Time to Rethink Ginsberg?
John A. Humbach
Pace University School of Law
September 26, 2010
Harvard Civil Rights - Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), Forthcoming
This term the Supreme Court will decide whether states can constitutionally ban sales of violent videogames to minors. In reaching its decision, the Court will inevitably be faced with how to deal with Ginsberg v. New York, the case that allowed states to forbid sales of non-obscene (constitutionally "protected") pornography to persons under age 17.
The opinion in Ginsberg, if not the result, is an odd duck in First Amendment jurisprudence. It is a case that applied "rational basis" review in an area where the Supreme Court now insists on strict scrutiny. But the Court predicated its use of rational basis review on reasoning that was analytically flawed. Not only was the reasoning circular but it was founded on the startling idea that states have the power to modify the scope of a constitutional concept (i.e., obscenity) and, therefore, to cut down constitutional rights.
It is doubtful that Ginsberg could be decided on the same reasoning today and, on its record, it probably could not have the same outcome. Rather than gloss over or ignore the analytical flaws of Ginsberg, the Court should take the occasion to rethink Ginsberg and to place this area of law, and minors' constitutional rights, on a sounder footing that is in harmony with the rest of First Amendment law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 21
Keywords: First Amendment, free expression, minors, obscenity, violent videogames, rational basis, strict scrutiny, Ginsberg v. New York, Schwartzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association
Date posted: September 27, 2010 ; Last revised: November 17, 2010