California law on violent games 'unconstitutional' yet again

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in 2005 California politicians passed a law that would put onerous limits on the video-gaming industry, seeking to impose severe restrictions upon their availability by making it a crime for a vendor to sell content rated under the state scheme as "18" to minors.

In spite of Governor Schwarzenegger's support for the law, these "think of the children" legislators have been slapped down a second time in court on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. Confirming a lower court's ruiling, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals concludes that "[t]he government may not restrict speech in order to control a minor's thoughts." Although the state has the legal capacity to police the sale of "obscenity", the traditional definition of "obscenity" focuses on sexual content, and courts have shown a hesitancy to expand "obscenity" beyond the realm of sex and into that of violence.

Leeland Yee, author of the original bill (AB1179), has now called for the case to be reviewed by the US Supreme Court, saying, "While I am deeply disappointed in... [the current] ruling, we should not stop our efforts to assist parents in keeping these harmful video games out of the hands of children. I believe this law will inevitably be upheld as Constitutional by the US Supreme Court."

The battle against violent video games is a long-standing one. It has raised its ugly head in a number of American states, including Michigan, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Each time such moves have met with the same judicial resistance: they are unconstitutional.

The argument here typically goes something like this, taken from the ruling of the United States District Court, Minnesota, "First, it asserts an interest in protecting the psychological well-being of minors; second, it claims the Act [to limit the availability of such games] fosters children's moral and ethical development."

The American Constitution's first amendment, however, holds that "Congress [and, by extension, state legislative bodies] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

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