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The U.S. Supreme Court this morning struck down a California law that would have banned the sale or rental of “violent” video games to minors, ruling that such a restriction violates the First Amendment.
With a 7-2 vote, the justices upheld a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the 2005 law, which never went into effect because of legal challenges but would have imposed $1,000 fines on businesses that sell violent games to those under the age of 18. According to ABC News, nine similar laws were passed across the nation, but all were blocked.
“Like books, plays and movies, video games communicate ideas,” Justice Antonin Scalia said in the courtroom. “The most basic principle of First Amendment law is that government has no power to restrict expression because of its content. […] There is no tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. Certainly, the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — have no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed.”
The high court felt that the video-game industry’s voluntary ratings system provides adequate guidance for parents to screen content.
Scalia was joined in his opinion by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. applauded California’s efforts to address “the effect of exceptionally violent video games on impressionable minors,” but voted to strike down the ban because the law was too broad. Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer filed separate dissents, with Thomas arguing that minors have no free-speech rights. Breyer, meanwhile, insisted the law was constitutional as it stood.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against the law, celebrated the court’s ruling.
“We’re extremely pleased that the Court’s decision preserves the First Amendment rights of the users and creators of video games, and that they resisted California’s desire to establish new categories of unprotected speech,” Executive Director Charles Brownstein said in a statement. “We’re also gratified that our discussion of the comics industry’s painful experience with moral panic and legislative meddling helped inform the positive outcome we see this morning.”