How the Internet Helped Shape Opinions on Brown v. EMA SCOTUS Decision

In the old days, Supreme Court Justices had very little information to turn to outside of legal briefs presented by combatants and case law when making a ruling, but a new study by William & Mary law professor Allison Orr Larsen finds that justice are increasingly turning to information on the Internet to shore up their opinions. According to research from Larsen, there were more than 100 instances where justices used information on the Internet in their opinions. Further, she found that 58 percent of 120 cases between 2000 to 2010 Justices used sources outside the court record (in other words, not presented within arguments or legal briefs).

She cites the 2011 ruling on California violent video game law (Brown v. EMA) in particular to make her point. The law would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors. She noted that three justices cited information not included in the official court records when issuing their opinions:

When Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s dissented with the majority opinion, he listed studies on the debate over psychological harm from playing the games; Justice Clarence Thomas' dissent cited some 59 sources that concluded that the "founding fathers believed parents had absolute control over their children’s development" – 57 of which were not found in any of the briefs; And Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. referred to websites that detailed "astounding violence" in modern video games.

The data shows that Justices are proving to be capable of looking outside the tailor-made arguments that litigants want them to see to find their own truths. Those truths may not always be fact-based – as the Internet is rife with falsehoods and strong opinions, but it is still an interesting trend.

Source: ABA Journal

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