California law banning sale of video games to minors ruled unconstitutional

Jurist reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held that a California ban on the sale of video games to minors is unconstitutional. According to Jurist:

The bill, originally signed into law by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in October 2005, prohibited the sale or rental of violent video games to minors under the age of 17, and required retailers to label violent games.

The court struck down the law, writing in their decision:

None of the research establishes or suggests a causal link between minors playing violent video games and actual psychological or neurological harm. . . . The state must come forward with more than it has.

Last summer, NCAC joined the New York Civil Liberties Union in protesting a New York bill that involved somewhat similar issues. The bill in question that had three parts: It would require any retailers selling or renting video games to prominently display the rating on the game’s cover, it would set up a government committee for reviewing ratings, and it would require that video game consoles have technology that allowed parents to block content.

As we wrote in a letter to Governor Paterson:

There are compelling reasons to give violent imagery and graphic descriptions broad constitutional protection against government regulation.  Otherwise, a great deal of literature, art, media, and other material would be vulnerable to censorship.

Despite our efforts, the bill was signed into law and is scheduled to take effect in 2010. It is uncertain whether there will be attempts to make amendments to the law or file litigation.

The first amendment implications of the New York law are a little more ambiguous than the California law, which straight-out banned the sale of violent video games to minors. To date, laws which attempt to ban the sale of materials with violent content have repeatedly been struck down by the courts. As we have written on our website:

The U.S. Supreme Court has never carved out a First Amendment exception for violent speech and images. Instead, the Court has affirmed that violent content is protected by the First Amendment, regardless of its social worth because “the line between the transmission of ideas and mere entertainment is much too elusive for this Court to draw.”


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Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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One Response to California law banning sale of video games to minors ruled unconstitutional

  1. Bill McMinn says:

    This is not a outright ban on all violent video games, just bans the sale to minors. I just don’t see where restricting access to these games to those who are legal age poses a threat to freedom of speech. Minors cannot buy tickets to go see movies with an NC-17 rating and nobody has raised a first amendment fuss about that. This looks like the ACLU is just trying to justify their existence.

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