Supreme Court Set To Rule On Banning Violent Video Games

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By Kyle Niewoehner, Legal Analyst

California Tries To Defend A Law Prohibiting Minors From Buying Violent Games

The Supreme Court is finally set to decide whether states can ban minors from buying violent video games. Oral argument for Arnold Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association is scheduled for Tuesday, November 2. This case involves a California law which prohibited minors from buying or renting graphically violent video games. Continuing a trend of lower court decisions on such statutes, the Ninth Circuit Court struck down the law. However, this time the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, meaning that at least four justices thought there was some merit to California’s arguments.

Opponents of the law argue that restrictions on video games constitute a violation of free speech and maintain that there is no solid evidence linking violent video games to violent behavior in the real world. California contends that children are a different category under the First Amendment and wants the Court to apply Ginsburg v. New York, a 1968 ruling that gave states more leniency to regulate children’s access to sexually explicit material. Currently, the courts apply strict scrutiny, the most exacting form of judicial review, to video game laws. But under the Ginsburg precedent, states would have far more freedom to justify their regulation of video games.

While the decision to hear an appeal is encouraging for proponents of the law, the recent ruling U.S. v. Stevens provides less hope. In that case, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s argument for restricting videos of animal cruelty. Along with the consistent lower court rulings against such laws, it would seem that this precedent dooms California’s appeal to failure. It’s only hope is that the Supreme Court will see video games as a unique, new threat to the well-being of children akin to the sexual material in Ginsburg. With that in mind, the video game industry submitted numerous amici briefs seeking to acquaint the Court with the diverse nature of video games.

Ironically, one of these briefs references a Terminator game starring “Petitioner Schwarzenegger.” The video game industry also makes sure to point out that there is no solid correlation between violent games and behavior.

This case has far-reaching ramifications for the future of media censorship in the United States. If the Supreme Court applies Ginsburg, not only would it change video game access laws, but it could eventually give states more power to regulate other forms of media. For instance, if violent video games can be restricted, why should online versions of those same games be off-limits for regulation? One precedent can have huge long-term implications.