The Supreme Court is poised to decide whether California can ban the sale or rental of violent videogames to minors, once again taking on a case with tremendous First Amendment implications for the entertainment business.
California’s law, written by state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, never took affect after it was passed in 2005. It was immediately challenged and overturned by the U.S. District Court and later the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
What’s significant is that the high court has granted writ of certiorari on the heels of its decision last week to overturn a law banning films showing cruelty of animals, a measure that was aimed at so-called “crush videos.” Their decision in the U.S. vs. Stevens case was 8-1.
For that reason, the Entertainment Software Assn. was confident that it will be able to convince the justices that the same rationale applies with the California law.
“Courts throughout the country have ruled consistently that content-based regulation of computer and video games is unconstitutional. Research shows that the public agrees, video games should be provided the same protections as books, movies and music.
“As the Court recognized last week in the US v. Stevens case, the First Amendment protects all speech other than just a few ‘historic and traditional categories’ that are ‘well-defined and narrowly limited.’ We are hopeful that the Court will reject California’s invitation to break from these settled principles by treating depictions of violence, especially those in creative works, as unprotected by the First Amendment.”
Yee, obviously pleased with the court’s decision to take the case, likened the ban to those on minors’ access to tobacco, alcohol and pornography, which the Supreme Court has favored. He distinguished the Schwarzenegger vs. Video Software Dealers Assn. case from the animal cruelty decision by noting that his legislation was narrowly aimed at minors, rather than the entire population. And he said that there is a difference between mere video, a passive medium, and videogames, an interactive one.
He said in a statement, “If the Supreme Court thought that the facts and circumstances surrounding the Stevens case were similar, they would have thrown out our law as well. Clearly, the justices want to look specifically at our narrowly tailored law that simply limits sales of ultra-violent games to kids without prohibiting speech.”
Update: California’s attorney general, Jerry Brown, who petitioned the court to review the ruling, issued a statement praising the grant of writ.
“It is time to allow California’s common-sense law to go into effect and help parents protect their children from violent video games,” he said.
Brown is currently running for governor.
Brown’s petition is here.
The law that requires violent video games to be labeled with an “18”, prohibits the sale or rental of these games to minors, and authorizes fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.