Calif. video game law ruled unconstitutional

Legal News Line Feb. 20, 2009, 3:43pm

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday a California law restricting the sale and rental of violent video games to minors is too restrictive and violates free speech.

The court unanimously ruled that state labeling requirements unfairly judges what constitutes a violent game, Reuters reported.

The California law was a ground-breaker that many other states were watching to see if it stood up in court. The ruling was not unexpected. During the court hearing in the fall, the three-judge panel expressed concern that the law would trod over the first amendment. A federal judge struck down the law in 2007.

"Aren't you asking this court to go where no one has gone before," Judge Consuelo Callahan told Morazzini. "Admittedly, they are disgusting. But aren't you just trying to be the thought police?"

Morazinni argued that the law doesn't infringe on the sale of video games, but gives parents the right to make the decision of what their children purchase.

But Judge Sidney Thomas said parents should monitor their children, not the state.

"It's best if parents have the force of the law behind them," Morazzini said.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinki challenged lawyers for video game companies if the law posed that much of a hardship, comparing it to the movie industry's voluntary rating system that prevents children from seeing R-rated movies.

Lawyers for the Video Software Dealers Association and Entertainment Software Association said imposing such restrictions could lead to limiting access to other material under the guise of protecting children.

The opinion by the court could have far-reaching effects for states trying to reign in the video game industry. Opponents have said that the violent and sexually graphic games are psychologically disturbing to children.

But the court rejected that argument in its ruling stating, "Even if it did, the Act is not narrowly tailored to prevent that harm and there remains less restrictive means of forwarding the state's purported interests."

State Sen. Leland Yee who authored the legislation told Reuters he would ask California Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal the court's decision.

"I've always contended that the ... law the governor signed was a good one for protecting children from the harm of playing these ultra-violent video games," he said. "I've always felt it would end up in the Supreme Court."

Video industry executives hailed the decision saying it sent a clear signal to states that laws are "an exercise in wasting taxpayer money, government time and state resources," according to a statement released on Friday.

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