Prof. John Humbach on SCOTUS decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association

Pace Law School Professor John Humbach, an expert on First Amendment Law, especially as it relates to teenagers, is available to speak to the media about the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association.

About Professor Humbach:

  • Author of “Teens, Porn and Videogames: Times to Rethink Ginsberg (published Sept. 2010 in the “Amicus” online version of the Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review), examining the main issues in the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association case and suggesting how the Supreme Court might deal with them
  • Lectured on the Brown case and related issues recently at the Law and Society Association’s annual meeting
  • Teaches First Amendment Law seminar at Pace Law School

Professor Humbach on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association:

“The central question in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association was the extent to which persons under age 18 have the normal constitutional rights of free speech and expression. Reduced to its basics, the issue was whether state government should be able to control what minors see, read, and hear. There is good reason to think that this sort of government control of teenage minds is a generally bad thing, but there are also many people who see value in such control.

Arguably, at least, government should not simply leave the development of teenagers’ personalities, tastes, attitudes, and values to their families, parents and the other people in their lives.  Instead, one could say, government exists not just to serve its citizens but to shape them as well.

This is, in any case, the basic essence of idea that government has a legitimate role in shaping teenage personalities, tastes, attitudes and values by limiting what they see and hear. The way this idea is usually carried out is by enacting laws to restrict the access of persons under 18 to various kinds of allegedly ‘harmful’ expressive material.

Obviously, there is a compelling governmental interest in shielding teenagers from social and cultural influences that might cause objective harm. But this is not an excuse for giving every state, town and village an essentially free hand in cutting off teen access to whatever a particular group in power might decide does “harm.”

To restrict free speech on the grounds of preventing harm, the usual rule is that ‘the Government . . . must demonstrate that the recited harms are real, not merely conjectural, and that the regulation will in fact alleviate these harms in a direct and material way.’   The Supreme Court today has reaffirmed that protective principle when it comes to a most important part—perhaps the most important part—of our population.

Forty years ago the Supreme Court announced: ‘Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.’ Today, the Court confirmed that the nation’s young people, no less than anyone else, are entitled to the same protection and respect.”

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