It’s a neat parlor game when you’re with a group of friends or work colleagues in Silicon Valley to see how many of them can name even one member of the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s a lock that no one can name them all, yet as the Court begins its new term this week, there are several cases that could have a major impact the technology world.
One of them comes straight out of Sacramento. The case of Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association will decide a simple question: may California forbid the sale of violent video games to children?
So far, the lower courts have said no. Now the Supreme Court must decide whether the regulation they have imposed on sexual materials can apply to acts of violence by gun-toting avatars.
California is actually one of the first states to enact a law banning the sale of violent video games to minors. Both Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General (and candidate) Jerry Brown have said they want the games banned. But the law was struck down by a federal ruling and now the Supreme Court must decide the whole matter once and for all.
Another case before the court this term involves cellphone contracts. The case of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion could emerge as a landmark decision in the right of consumers to file class action lawsuits.
Most cellphone contracts are so dense you could get a major migraine just by reading part of one. Yet, this case started when AT&T decided to offer a “free” cellphone to those who bought their service, but charged over $30 in sales taxes in the process. A class action lawsuit took AT&T to task for fraud, but the cell carrier is arguing that an often-ignored arbitration clause in their contract prohibits class actions. A court decision in AT&T’s favor could doom class action suits for years to come.
The Supreme Court itself remains a sheltered branch of the government that manages to stay out of the YouTube driven limelight. While proceedings in Congress and appearances by President Obama are daily fodder for online viewing, you won’t find any footage of a Supreme Court argument because the justices have steadfastly refused to allow cameras of any kind in their courtroom.
Ten years ago, the Court put one toe in the technology waters when they began posting same-day transcripts of oral arguments on the Court website. So now you can read the dialogue online as we begin to see more cases that involve technology reach the marble-lined halls of the highest court in the land.