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California Takes Video Game Violence to Supreme Court

by Rainier on May 20, 2009 @ 1:16 p.m. PDT

Wasting valuable tax payer dollars in a budget crisis, Governor Schwarzenegger today filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in a bid to enact a law that would ban the sale or rental of violent video games to people under 18, legislation that was ruled unconstitutional months ago.

The State of California today petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for a review) regarding a decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in February struck down a state law preventing the sale and rental of ultra-violent video games to children.

“California’s violent video game law properly seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games,” said Senator Leland Yee, who is also a child psychologist. “I am hopeful that the Supreme Court – which has never heard a case dealing with violent video games – will accept our appeal and assist parents in keeping these harmful video games out of the hands of children. I believe the high court will uphold this law as Constitutional. In fact in Roper v. Simmons, the court agreed we need to treat children differently in the eyes of the law due to brain development.”

Indeed, the Court has ruled in various instances that the law can limit minors’ access to material, including pornography, alcohol, tobacco, and various licenses and permits. In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty for children on the grounds of brain maturation.

In 2005, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed the law (Assembly Bill 1179) to prevent the sale and rental of violent video games that depict serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, to persons who are under 18 years of age. Retailers who violated the Act would be liable in an amount up to $1,000 for each violation.

“I signed this important measure to ensure parents are involved in determining which video games are appropriate for their children,” said Schwarzenegger. “By prohibiting the sale of violent video games to children under the age of 18 and requiring these games to be clearly labeled, this law would allow parents to make better informed decisions for their kids. I will continue to vigorously defend this law and protect the well-being of California’s kids.”

“California’s children are exposed everyday to video games that glamorize killing sprees, torture and sexual assault,” said Brown. “In the face of this brutal violence, I am petitioning the Supreme Court to allow the state to enforce its reasonable ban on violent video game sales and rentals to minors.”

The lower court’s decision stated, “We hold that the Act, as presumptively invalid content-based restriction on speech, is subject to strict scrutiny and not the “variable obscenity” standard from Ginsberg v. New York. Applying strict scrutiny, we hold that the Act violates rights protected by the First Amendment.”

“Based on an extensive body of peer-reviewed research from leading social scientists and medical associations, we narrowly tailored this law to serve the State’s compelling interest in protecting children,” said Yee. “We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder. The video game industry should not be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”

“Passing this law was not easy and thus we should not expect the court proceedings to be any different,” said Yee. “The multi-billion dollar video game industry relies on the revenue generated by the sales of these extremely violent games to children; thus they have the desire and resources to fight this cause at every turn. Despite their high-priced lobbyists, they were unsuccessful in the Legislature and despite their high-priced lawyers, I am hopeful they will inevitably face the same fate in the courts.”

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown said Tuesday that the state would seek to appeal the decision before the highest US court.

Issueing a statement Brown said, "California's children are exposed everyday to video games that glamorize killing sprees, torture and sexual assault. IIn the face of this brutal and extreme violence, I am petitioning the Supreme Court to allow the state to enforce its reasonable ban on the sale or rental of violent video game sales to children."

“California’s citizens should see this for what it is—a complete waste of the state’s time and resources. California is facing a $21 billion budget shortfall coupled with high unemployment and home foreclosure rates. Rather than focus on these very real problems, Governor Schwarzenegger has recklessly decided to pursue wasteful, misguided and pointless litigation. “We are confident that this appeal will meet the same fate as the State’s previous failed efforts to regulate what courts around the country have uniformly held to be expression that is fully protected by the First Amendment. California’s taxpayers would be better served by empowering parents and supporting the ESRB rating system,” says Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA.

President of the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) Hal Halpin said, "I was disheartened to hear that Governor Schwarzenegger is petitioning the Supreme Court over labeling and sales of video games, especially given the fact that nine similar pieces of legislation have been overturned on First Amendment grounds, costing the respective cities and states much-needed taxpayer funds. Coupled with California’s $21B economic crisis and the fact that the Governor is about to lay off teachers en masse, it’s shocking to the conscience. This was a frivolous political football back when the state had money to burn. Now it’s out-and-out irresponsibly politicized."

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