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Monday, June 27, 2011

US Supreme Court Overturns California Law restricting sales of violent viode games to children

When laws in the US are measured against the US Constitutional rights, the rights they seek to restrict are weighted. One of the most compelling involves First Amendment freedom of speech infringements.

While laypeople think of speech as verbal communications, speech includes any communication of ideas in any medium. And “the basic principles of freedom of speech . . . do not vary” with a new and different communication medium. Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U. S. 495, 503. The First Amendment applies as much to violent video games as to a published book.

In the Brown vs Entertainment Merchant Association, et al., decision issued today, the US Supreme Court reminded legislators that “government lacks the power to restrict expression because of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content” with the “limited exceptions of historically unprotected” classes of speech, such as obscenity, fighting words and incitement.

They warned that the legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech just because the social costs outweigh the social benefits of that expression. (Citing to US vs. Stevens, 559 U.S. ___) They were careful to distinguish the Ginsberg v. New York case (390 U. S. 629, upholding the harmful to minors standard for sexual content) as a mere critical application of laws designed for adults being adjusted for the protection of minors.

The California law proposed to create an entirely new category of content-based unprotected speech. Looking to history, the Supreme Court could find no basis for restricting a minor’s access to depictions of violence. They found the state’s arguments that the interactive nature of the violence created a special case unpersuasive.

In order for the California law to legally restrict a minor’s access to violent video games, given its inherent intrusion on freedom of expression and access to content, it would have to pass the “strict scrutiny” test – a justified compelling government interest and a narrowly-drawn restriction. (Citing R. A. V. v. St. Paul, 505 U. S. 377, 395)

The Court also reviewed the studies submitted both in support of and against the restriction of violent video game content and found that nothing proved that minors exposed to violent video games were more aggressive in their real life interactions. The state claimed that it was also representing the interest of parents in wanting to restrict their childrens’ access to violent video games. The Court did not believe that parents needed or would want such “protection,” and noted that some parents have no problem with their childrens’ use of violent video games.

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