Supreme Court Rules Government Ban of Games Unconstitutional

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The United States Supreme Court, in a resounding rebuke to state laws that ban the sale of violent video games to minors, ruled that such laws are unconstitutional by a 7-2 majority. The law designed to prevent minors from purchasing M-rated video games.

The case, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, is out of California where the state under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger imposed a $1,000 fine on retailers for violations. “We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of games that depict ultraviolent actions, just as we already do with movies,” the governor said.

The Supreme Court disagreed, stating that, “As a means of assisting concerned parents it (the law) 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 harmless pastime.” A broad coalition of justices formed the majority, including liberal members such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as conservative firebrands like Antonin Scalia.

Dissenting were Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Stephen Breyer. “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 games,” Breyer wrote.

The author of the legislation in the California State Senate, Leland Yee, accused the Supreme Court of putting the interests of corporations ahead of children. “As a result of their decision, Wal-Mart and the video game industry will continue to make billions of dollars at the expense of our kids’ mental health and the safety of our community,” Yee said in a statement. “It is simply wrong that the video game industry can be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”

The video game industry, as should be expected, was enthusiastic about the decision. “This is a historic and complete win for the First Amendment and the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known – that free speech protections apply every bit as much to video games as they do to other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA, which represents the U.S. computer and video game industry. “The Court declared forcefully that content-based restrictions on games are unconstitutional; and that parents, not government bureaucrats, have the right to decide what is appropriate for their children.”