California violent video game law struck down by US Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has voted down the California law that would have made selling video and PC games with violent content to minors a crime. The decision in the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association case brings to a close a court battle over the law that stretches out nearly six years. The full opinion of the court can be read at the court's official web site.

The law itself, first proposed by then California State Assemblyman (now California State Senator) Leland Yee, was signed in 2005 by then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The now defeated law would have put labels on certain games with violent content and would have fined retailers who sold such games to minors. However the video game industry sued on First Amendment grounds and got the law's enforcement suspended until the lawsuit went through the court system. While two lower court decisions said that the law was unconstitutional, California went ahead and appealed the decisions to the nine judges of the US Supreme Court. The judges heard opening arguments for and against the law in November 2010.

With today's US Supreme Court decision that means that other states will likely not bother any more with trying to pass similar laws on their own. It's also likely that the video game industry will ask the court system to have the state of California pay for the video game industry's legal fees surrounding the case. That's money that the state, which is dealing with a huge government budget crisis, likely doesn't have.

We will update this news post with more info on today's very important US Supreme Court decision.

Update: In their posted official decision to strike down the California video game law, the official opinion of the court stated, "As a means of protecting children from portrayals of violence, the legislation is seriously underinclusive, not only because it excludes portrayals other than video games, but also because it permits a parental or avuncular veto. And as a means of assisting concerned parents it is seriously overinclusive because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents (and aunts and uncles) think violent video games are a harm-less pastime. And the overbreadth in achieving one goal is not cured by the underbreadth in achieving the other. Legislation such as this, which is neither fish nor fowl, cannot survive strict scrutiny."

Two of the judges, Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer, voted to support the California law. Both also wrote lengthy dissenting opinions. Thomas stated, "In the typical case, the only speech affected is speech that bypasses a minor’s parent or guardian. Because such speech does not fall within 'the freedom of speech' as originally under-stood, California’s law does not ordinarily implicate the First Amendment and is not facially unconstitutional."

Breyer stated, "Sometimes, children need to learn by making choices for themselves. Other times, choices are made for children—by their parents, by their teachers,and by the people acting democratically through their governments. In my view, the First Amendment does not disable government from helping parents make such a choice here—a choice not to have their children buy extremely violent, interactive video games, which they more than reasonably fear pose only the risk of harm to those children."

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