The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of a group of toy makers that have sued to block new laws banning sales of paper dolls has renewed debate about whether dolls and other toy products are a safer choice for children.
The court also struck down a previous version of the legislation that critics said was overly broad.
“The court’s decision today demonstrates that children’s interests have been sufficiently protected from a state ban on children’s use of digital technology to be afforded full protection under the First Amendment,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her opinion.
The ruling was announced as part of a larger fight between toy makers and retailers over new laws in Texas and Kansas.
In a separate lawsuit, the toy makers have also asked the Supreme Court to strike down an Illinois law that would have banned the sale of digital media.
A federal judge in Chicago blocked the laws in July, saying they were unconstitutional.
The companies say their products are safe and do not pose a risk of harm to children.
A majority of justices sided with the companies, but Chief Justice John Roberts, who is often at odds with his conservative colleagues, voted against the decision.
The Texas law would have barred sale of toys or other electronic products that allow children to play games or learn math, science or other subjects without the help of an adult.
It was sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, and other lawmakers.
The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.
Flores said the Legislature should have passed a more narrowly tailored version that would ban sales of toys with features such as “virtual reality” and “motion tracking” that allow players to interact with a virtual environment without using a finger.
The toys that would be subject to the ban included a version that allows players to walk and jump while wearing an app or a virtual reality headset.
The lawmakers said the legislation was designed to protect children from the spread of cyberbullying.
They say it could also encourage other forms of cyber bullying.
But the toy companies say they would be vulnerable if other states adopted similar laws.
The justices said that while the legislation is not necessarily “reasonably designed to prevent physical injury or property damage,” it could nevertheless be construed as “a substantial obstacle to legitimate commerce” because it “does not sufficiently restrict the use of the products.”
They said they found that the law “is not so vague that it will be open to a broad interpretation.”
The court’s opinion said that because the products could be easily distinguished from the physical products, it would be unreasonable for the Legislature to have concluded that the toys posed a risk to children in the same way as traditional weapons or other firearms.
“There is no basis for concluding that the proposed legislation would be unconstitutionally vague or otherwise unduly burdensome to speech protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” the justices wrote.
“Moreover, the Legislature has no compelling interest in regulating children’s access to toys and digital media that could potentially have similar effects on their development as firearms.”
The ruling also addresses an earlier ruling in Texas by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Dallas, which held that a bill banning sales and use of toys that can be used for “painting, sculpting, or creating realistic sculptures” did not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendment.
That ruling led to a court battle that ultimately ended in a tie in April.
The issue has been raised by the toy manufacturers, who say they should be able to sell products that are sold under a state’s laws.
They argue that the dolls are still toys and should be subject, like guns, to similar restrictions.
The makers of the dolls also said the toys should be exempt from sales laws because they were made by companies that make similar toys for other purposes.