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California Defends Violent Video Game Law to Supreme Court

12 Jul, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

In a filing with the U.S. Supreme Court July 12, the state of California defended a 2005 law that would have banned the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, arguing that “no rational justification exists for treating violent material so vastly different than sexual material under the First Amendment.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed off on the law that would have required game manufacturers and distributors to place stickers reading “18” on violent games and would have fined retailers $1,000 for each violation. But the Video Software Dealers Association, now the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), and the Entertainment Software Association filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming the law was unconstitutional.

In August 2007 a federal district court judge agreed with the trade groups, saying the law violated the First Amendment, a ruling that was affirmed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2009.

The Supreme Court said in April it would hear the case. Oral arguments are expected to begin this fall.

“I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will help us give parents a valuable tool to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games,” said State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, a child psychologist who authored the 2005 law.  “The Supreme Court has never heard a case dealing with violent video games, and considering the precedent set by the high court, I am confident that they will uphold our law as Constitutional.” He said he would submit his own “friend of the court” brief this month.

In its filing the state argues that the Supreme Court has ruled on laws that limit minors’ access to pornography, tobacco and alcohol, and video games should be treated the same.

“It is well-recognized that the societal values served by the freedom to consume expressive material do not justify recognizing a constitutional right for minors of the same magnitude as that for adults — and this should be true whether the expressive material is sexually explicit or offensively violent,” the brief reads. “Instead, while minors certainly enjoy the protection of the First Amendment, it is a more restricted right than that assured to adults, who may judge for themselves what level of sexually-explicit or violent material they should consume.”
The state also cites a March study in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin that linked violent video games to an increase in violent behavior.

The EMA did not have an immediate reaction to the filing.

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