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Violent Video Games Bill Gets Struck Down by Supreme Court

by Rainier on Feb. 20, 2009 @ 2:33 p.m. PST

In 2005, the California State Assembly approved legislation to limit the access of extremely violent video games to minors (anyone under 18), which was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger but immediately appealed by the VSDA and ESA, and has now finally been overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which deemed it unconstitutional.

In 2005, the state of California enacted a law to restrict the sale or rental to anyone under the age of 18 of computer and video games that are classified as “violent video games” if the depictions of violence in the games are offensive to the community or if the violence depicted is committed in an “especially heinous, cruel, or depraved” manner. The law was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2006.

Prior to the law taking effect, the Video Software Dealers Association (now the Entertainment Merchants Association) and the Entertainment Software Association filed suit against California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and others to prevent its enforcement. The plaintiffs asserted that the law’s restriction on the sale or rental of certain violent video games violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to freedom of expression and equal protection of the laws and is unconstitutionally vague.

In August 2007, a federal district court judge granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and permanently barred enforcement of California’s video game law. In doing so, the judge ruled that video games are protected by the First Amendment, the law is unduly restrictive and uses overly broad definitions, and the state failed to show that the limitations on violent video games would actually protect children.

The state of California appealed the summary judgment ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments on the appeal on October 29, 2008 at a special sitting at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, CA.

Statement of Bo Andersen: “We are extremely gratified by the court’s rejection of video game censorship by the state of California. The ruling vindicates what we have said since the bill that became this law was introduced: ratings education, retailer ratings enforcement, and control of game play by parents are the appropriate responses to concerns about video game content.

“Retailers are committed to assisting parents in assuring that children do not purchase games that are not appropriate for their age. Independent surveys show that retailers are doing a very good job in this area, with an 80% enforcement rate, and retailers will continue to work to increase enforcement rates even further. The court has correctly noted that the state cannot simply dismiss these efforts.

“I understand that some government officials will push for the state to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review this decision. The state should not acquiesce in this demand, particularly in light of its budget difficulties. The state has already wasted too many tax dollars, at least $283,000 at last count, on this ill-advised, and ultimately doomed, attempt at state-sponsored nannyism.”

Statement of Michael D. Gallagher: “This is a win for California’s citizens. This is a clear signal that in California and across the country, the reckless pursuit of anti-video game legislation like this is an exercise in wasting taxpayer money, government time, and state resources. In the end, common sense prevailed with the court determining that, after exhaustive review, video games do not cause psychological or neurological harm to minors. And, that the ESRB rating system, educational campaigns and parental controls are the best tools for parents to help control what their children play.”

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