Paul Smith and Gaming the Courts

Metro weekly profiles Paul Smith, one of the leading Supreme Court litigators in the country, and particularly his noteworthy work on Brown v. EMA. But before tackling that landmark case, Smith has (and still does) fought to advance gay equality in the courts. Smith was a key factor in successfully arguing Lawrence v. Texas before the Supreme Court in 2003, which resulted in ending sodomy laws.

Smith began his work on technology issues with a prominent First Amendment case involving the Communications Decency Act or, Reno v. ACLU. The law required "all communications on the Internet, even like email, to be suitable for young children unless … screened away from children." The law "was thrown out by the Supreme Court ultimately unanimously in 1997." Smith has spent most of his career arguing against similar regulations including those applying to video games.

The Reno case, caught the attention of the video game industry, and saw him arguing cases for the video game industry for about 10 years all around the country – including the case decided earlier this year, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association.

"States and cities have tried to pass laws limiting which games can be sold to minors based on their content," says Smith. "Our position has always been, 'there's a ratings system, and people should be able to make choices about these things themselves.' It's not obscenity, it's protected speech."

"And we had always succeeded in having the laws thrown out under the First Amendment, including in California, which is the case that went to the Supreme Court," he continued. "The alarming moment was when they took the case at the Supreme Court. There was no apparent reason why they should."

"But it led to quite a First Amendment confrontation…which had the attention of not just the video game manufacturers, but the moviemakers and the television producers and all sorts of people who were worried that we were suddenly going to have a new exception to the First Amendment for violence and kids."

"But it didn't turn out that way," Smith added.

Smith's advocacy for free speech and gay rights will continue, but gamers are in his debt for his work on Brown v. EMA.

Metro Weekly is a Washington, DC area publication that covers issues and people important to the gay and lesbian community. It has been in operation since May 1994.

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