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California Submits Violent Video Game Argument To Supreme Court; ESA Responds

by Matt Miller on Jul 13, 2010 at 01:30 PM

California has relayed its written arguments to the Supreme Court, laying out the framework of its case to be argued later this year. Like clockwork, the ESA has responded.

The Supreme Court agreed earlier this year in to hear the case surrounding the legality of selling violent games to minors, formally titled Schwarzenegger v. EMA/Entertainment Software Association. The law was authored in 2005 but struck down by the U.S. Ninth Court of Appeals in 2009. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely review and make a final ruling on the case later this fall. The case could be a defining one for the video game industry and free speech issues on a wider scale.

The website of California state senator Leland Yee yesterday released a statement detailing some aspects of the written argument that was submitted to the Court. “I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will help us give parents a valuable tool to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games. The Supreme Court has never heard a case dealing with violent video games, and considering the precedent set by the high court, I am confident that they will uphold our law as Constitutional,” Yee's statement reads. Yee plans to submit a brief of his own to the high court next week as a "friend of the court".

The press release goes on to include excerpts from the petitioner's brief: "The First Amendment has never been understood as guaranteeing minors unfettered access to offensively violent material. Such material shares the same characteristics as other forms of unprotected speech, especially sexually explicit material. Throughout history, many states have enacted laws that regulate the sale of both sexual and violent material to minors. Such restrictions reflect society’s understanding that violent material can be just as harmful to the well-being of minors as sexually explicit material. This is further reflected in the fact that violence can strip constitutional protection from otherwise protected material. Sexually explicit material that would be otherwise protected for distribution to adults can be considered obscene given the violent nature of its depiction. No rational justification exists for treating violent material so vastly different than sexual material under the First Amendment when reviewing restrictions on distribution to minors.”

ESA president and CEO Michael Gallagher issued a brief statement on the same day, detailing the ESA's continuing stance on the case. “Computer and video games are First Amendment protected speech. There is an unbroken chain of more than a dozen previous court rulings agreeing. Courts across the country recognize that computer and video games, like other protected expression such as movies, books, and music, have an artistic viewpoint, and use sounds and images to create an experience and immerse the player in art. That is why other courts have unanimously affirmed that video games are entitled to the same constitutional protection as movies, music, books, and other forms of art. California's law is no different than others before it. It is clearly unconstitutional under First Amendment principles. We look forward to presenting our arguments in the Supreme Court of the United States and vigorously defending the works of our industry's creators, storytellers and innovators."

As gamers, it's not hard to understand which side most of us stand on this issue. Looking beyond those common feelings, do you feel like there are elements of California's argument that are worth considering? Should this be a legal issue one way or the other, or one better decided by individual families? Are you happy this case is coming before the Supreme Court, so that the issue can potentially be settled once and for all?