Pinecrest's Own 'Supreme Court'
Pinecrest Supreme Court
As the U.S. Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of a ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, local students have their own verdict.
Tenth-graders in Carla Neal's civics classes at Pinecrest High School recently held their own Supreme Court case with the help of Bruce Cunningham, a Moore County Board of Education member and a local attorney.
The case in question, Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, asks whether a California law that bans the sale of violent video games to minors violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
"You're doing it right now at the same time they are in Washington, D.C.," Cunningham told the -students before they began.
Eight students presided as associate justices in black robes borrowed from teachers around school, along with Cunningham, who was the chief justice.
Four students argued on either side of the case, while other students observed the proceeding as reporters.
Just as in the arguments that were going on simultaneously in Washington, D.C., students had five-minute intervals to present their arguments as the justices questioned them.
Students representing California, the petitioners, argued that the law is constitutional because it helps parents protect children's wellbeing by barring a child's access to the games without parental consent.
Graham Leonard argued that video games affect -people's way of thinking by altering their perception of violent situations in the real world and trivializing the consequences.
"When you're a child, your brain hasn't developed that part where you don't understand the consequences," he said.
Students representing the Entertainment Merchants Association, the respondents, argued that government does not have the ability to limit depictions of violence, which are considered speech.
"Speech, even though it is not pleasing, is still entitled to freedom," Tanner Haley said.
The students also argued that the ban oversteps the boundaries of government by limiting the ability for parents to decide what is suitable for their children.
After hearing the arguments, the justices went outside in the hallway to vote.
While they deliberated, -students from both sides waited with anticipation and a little relief that their -presentations were over.
"It was a lot of fun, but it was kind of difficult," said Jennie Cunningham, Bruce Cunningham's daughter.
As Cunningham and her classmates presented their arguments, the justices posed some difficult questions for them to answer.
"You really have to think on your feet," Zoe Harrison said. "They ask some tough questions."
Felicia Painter's group, who argued against the ban, was confident that its side would win as they waited for the decision.
Painter said that the ban is a slippery slope for limiting other forms of media, such as books, movies, music or even the news.
"If you limit video games, then there's no line," she said. "Where do you draw the line?"
'Felt So Real'
The student justices ruled in favor of Entertainment Media Association in a close 5-4 vote.
"We made you guys feel so nervous!" Chantice Clark said to her classmates after Bruce Cunningham announced the decision.
Clark said she felt nervous for some of her classmates as they answered the hard questions that she and the other justices asked.
"I thought it was funny because it felt so real," she said.
Nicole Lindamood was also one of the justices asking her classmates hard questions during the proceeding. She said she hadn't thought about pursuing law as a career seriously until this activity.
"That was a lot of fun, so maybe," she said.
The activity also allowed students to understand how much work goes into preparing for a legal case, especially one heard by the Supreme Court.
Zach Pipkin, one of the students who argued against the ban, said that though he likes to debate, he doesn't think he's cut out for law. He's considering a career in medicine.
"I enjoy speeches and debating, but I don't think I could do it as a career - too much work," he said.
'Learned a Lot'
The classes had finished learning about the U.S. Constitution and were learning about the U.S. judicial system when Cunningham gave Neal the idea for the activity during a class visit.
Students spent a week preparing for the case, reading over court briefs, developing questions and forming their arguments.
Cunningham shared his own experiences with students and helped them learn about courtroom etiquette and procedure.
Neal said she was surprised to see her students put so much effort into the activity.
"I was really proud of them," she said. "It's showing them a real-life case and bringing in their own opinions. Video games are something they know about, something they care about, so it was a really great opportunity."
She added that the activity has made her students more aware of current events.
"They're more excited to see what's really going on," Neal said.
Cunningham was also surprised to see how the case played out.
"You put a robe on these kids and the power goes right to their heads!" he laughed. "It was great fun. The kids worked really hard, and I think they learned a lot."
Cunningham said the activity also teaches students the art of debate, in which people with different perspectives can civilly argue about an issue.
"It's important to teach kids how to present themselves," he said. "It's exciting to think they were doing in Pinecrest High School civics simultaneously the same thing that was happening in Washington, D.C."
The Supreme Court has not made its final decision on the case, but the students are ready to see how the result of their own case compares to the real thing.
Luke Elliott believes that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state of California will win the actual case.
"They have a better case," he said. "It makes more sense to require parental consent to buy a video game."
Contact Hannah Sharpe by e-mail at hannah@thepilot. com.
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