Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

Summary: The Supreme Court overturned a California law that sought to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors on First Amendment grounds, calling it "seriously overinclusive."

TOPICS: Mobility

The Supreme Court today ruled 7-2 that a 2005 California law which would have banned selling violent video games to children went too far. It's the latest - and most high-profile - defeat for politicians seeking to restrict the sale of violent video games, and sets an important precedent that puts video games along with books and movies as a form of protected free speech.

Created by California state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), the law sought to restrict the sale of certain kinds of violent video games to children without parental supervision. Retailers found in violation of the law would have been fined up to $1,000 per infraction. The law was enacted in 2005 but was never put into effect.

The majority of video game resellers in the United States - including major retailers like GameStop and Best Buy - support the use of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board's (ESRB) classification system, which rates games based on content and applies an age rating, which is featured on the video game box. It's a purely voluntary system modeled after the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings for movies.

As the plaintiff in the case, ultimately known as Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Video Software Dealers Association - now the Electronic Merchants Association - argued successfully to lower courts that the law was too broad in its application and failed to pass muster with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that an existing system was already in place which effectively restricted sales - the ESRB ratings system.

Other states have tried to put in place laws restricting the sales of violent video games to minors. In each case that's made it to federal court, the laws have been overturned on First Amendment grounds. This is the first such case to be ruled on by the Supreme Court, however.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia called California's law "seriously overinclusive because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents...think violent video games are a harmless pastime."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, "The First Amendment does not disable government from helping parents make such a choice here — a choice not to have their children buy extremely violent, interactive games."

But more importantly, the court ruled in a precedent-setting decision that video games are entitled to the same protection as other forms of speech, such as books, plays and movies.

The Court also took a swipe at the argument that violent video games are harmful to children - a central argument of Senator Yee, the child psychologist turned politician who sponsored the law. In their ruling, the Supreme Court said studies showing studies linking violent video games and violent behavior in children "do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively."

Speaking on behalf of the Entertainment Consumer Association (ECA), Jennifer Mercurio, VP & General Counsel, said, "We had hoped that we would see this decision, and it's been a long time coming. That being said, there will probably be one or two legislators who attempt to test these new parameters, and the ECA will continue to fight for the rights of entertainment consumers."

In a statement issued late Monday morning, Senator Leland Yee blasted the Supreme Court's decision, saying it "put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children."

"As a result of their decision, Wal-Mart and the video game industry will continue to make billions of dollars at the expense of our kids’ mental health and the safety of our community," said Yee, who takes credit with forcing "the video game industry to do a better job at appropriately rating these games."

(Editor's note: Updated with statement from Senator Yee)

Topic: Mobility

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  • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

    Wow, for once, i agree with this incarnation of the supreme court wholeheartedly... Actually, i agreed with their ruling on the " God hates fags" people too.
    • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

  • That didn't take long

    Once it actually reached the Supreme Court they didn't take long to strike it down--like every other attempt.

    Now that the SC has ruled on it maybe the politicians won't waste tax payers money creating illegal laws.

    Illegal laws? (laughing)
    • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

      @wolf_z Politicians will stop creating laws like this when "think of the children" stops becoming a refrain. In other words, never.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law


        I don't want politicians to "think of the children", I want parents to do that and sadly that's lacking these days.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        add the word "children" to an issue and we as adults tend to over-react.
        The politicians need to allow parents to be parents.

        Nice job. :D
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        @flargh and all,
        I think we have allowed the government from local all the way to federal to raise our kids while the parents are sitting back and demanding for more laws to raise their kids for them.

        Parents -- Get up off your butts and be freakin parents!!!!!!!!!!!!! Quit depending on the government to raise your kids. Teach them discipline, honor, selflessness, etc. instead of letting the government deal with your kids. Won't be funny when they start coming into your house with guns and taking your kids away because they didn't do their homework or something else you should be teaching them to do.
        The government already has way too much control. It's for the people by the people. Not for the government by the government.
        Get with the program, be parents to your kids instead of paying them do their own thing and not be involved in their own lives. Remember Columbine! Parents didn't know what they were up to until it was too late. They were not being parents. As many more are these days.
      • @jmiller

        because, of course, parents petitioning their representatives to ban this filth from their communities is a perfect example of poor parenting and ignoring children.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        @fr_gough Care to support your claim of filth? These Parents are campaining to tell other people how to raise their kids, not attempting to raise their own. If they don't agree with the games, then they shouldn't let THEIR kids buy them.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        Yes parents need to be parents but that doesn't mean our government should give up on protecting us and it's sad to see the supreme court wash their hands of any responsibility by invoking the over used 1st amendment.

        The next time a 16 year old runs another car off the road and claims he learned it in a video game, the supreme court just gave him his justification for murder. I hope that victim isn't a friend or family member of yours.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        @fr_gough<br><br>These "parents" are just getting tired of telling their kids NO because they want to be their friends instead. My parents had no trouble saying no to me and you can best believe that when my little ones (all 3 of them) grow old to want violent games, it will be a resounding no and I could care less if they hate me for it.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        @MedicNYC if you're dumb enough to think that a kid can learn how to drive a car through a video game you probably thought that kids were going around in the eighties busting their heads against bricks and wondering where the gold coins were.
    • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

      To NickSwift498 It is JACKASSES like YOU who get to Spout Off about the Military( I being a Disabled US Air Force Vietnam Veteran), that get to Shoot Off their Dispicable Mouth, about the Very People who are Protecting JackAsses like you to do the Same. Why Don't YOU Enlist in the Military, and See IF you come back about the same Crap, that People like you are Spouting out of their mouths, about People like me, (US Military Vets)?????!!!!!
    • The point is

      @wolf_z that the supreme court, and most politicians, are far more interested in supporting commercial interests than listening to the views of the electorate.
      Lobbying works - as long has you have a big clip of money to put into someone's electoral campaign.
      Lobbying doesn't work if you are a hard working, law abiding citizen. Did I read somewhere that 70% of US Citizens don't pay income tax? Did I read that 60% of US personal bancruptcies are as a result of medical bills? That over 2/3 of medicine prescriptions are never purchased because of money? I don't want to see more laws, I do want to see more personal responsibility, but government has a place and a contribution to make.
  • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

    Well I think the movie theaters/skin mags/dvd sellers should hop on the bandwagon since their freedom of speech is being trampled on.
  • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

    Sorry but I feel if a 16 year old kid can't get into a rated R movie by himself, then he can't buy a MA video game. Can't have rules for one and not the other... Despite the target audience for all of these games are kids. It is a catch 22, but it just goes to show that the parents should take more initiative into what their kids are playing and watching.

    Luckily my parents didn't and I got to warp my fragile little mind with such classics as Mortal Kombat, Splatterhouse 2 & 3, and Resident Evil. God I miss those days.
    • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

      @Bates_ "the target audience for all these games is kids."

      You could not be *more* wrong. Not only does the rating system not back you up on this, demographic analysis of who's buying games doesn't support your assertion, either.

      "if a 16 year old kid can't get into a rated R movie by himself, then he can't buy a MA rated video game."

      Exactly the point the ECA and EMA made, actually. The reason a kid can't get into a rated R movie has nothing to do with the *law,* everything to do with a *voluntary system developed by the motion picture industry itself.* The same system the ESRB rating system was modeled after - a point I made in my article, in fact.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        @flargh (Not attacking you because you make a great point, I just get fired up on this subject and love debating it. Just a warning for you lol.)

        That's a load of BS. Adults do game as much as kids, but look at the world around you. 10-17 year old kids love to game. Come X-mas time they want the newest and latest sequels to their favorite games which usually happen to be: Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Battlefield, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Halo (not sure what the ratings on these games were), Bioshock, Fallout, Resistance, and a thousand other violent FPS games. Kids are the major players of these games, which is why a lot of these sequels get released around X-mas time.

        These type of arguments were massive in the 1980's with horror movies. Parents used to go on crusades to get certain horror movies pulled from the theaters. "Silent Night, Deadly Night", spawned the biggest crusade though, it was epic. LOLs were had from horror fans all around the world. This wave of crusades started in 1980 all thanks to one movie "Friday the 13th".

        It didn't take long for the MPAA (God I hate the MPAA) to start coming down on horror movies mostly because of parent's cries and outrages. Going back to the F13 series, Part VII which was released back in 1987 went through 6 or 7 cuts all because of the MPAA, before they gave it a hard-R rating. Those first 7 cuts were all X rated. Because of the MPAA we horror fans got robbed of a brutally awesome movie, and the original cut was lost. Only some clips and pictures remain of scenes we never got to see.

        I am going off topic but just venting a bit lol. Censorship is good, but to a certain extent.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        Have to agree with @Bates_....
        While a "voluntary" system is preferable to the legislative kind, we need a method to ensure that groups do not go over-board in the zeal to ensure they cover "everything"....

        It needs to provide guidelines and common sense.
        My kids?..... COD junkies.... with my permission.
      • RE: Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

        @flargh Unlike the movie business, ECA/EMA has no teeth. If a retailer were to ignore ratings and sell games to minors -- hardly an "if," as they do already -- the industry would take no action -- in fact, given multi-tier distribution, they COULD not take action. Whereas under MPAA ratings, theaters that ignore ratings get cut off from content, so theaters don't admit minors, even to the point of using security and calling police to enforce.