Ban on Violent Video Games to Get Supreme Hearing

Supreme Court to reconcile First Amendment and ban on violent video games.

ByABC News
October 25, 2010, 7:54 PM

Nov. 1, 2010 -- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on whether states should be allowed to prohibit the sale of violent video games to children.

At issue is a pending California law that provides for up to a $1,000 fine to retailers who sell violent video games; defined as depicting "killing, maiming dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" to children. The fine does not apply to sales clerks if they have no ownership interest in the business.

Lawyers for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger argued in court papers that the California legislature, in passing the law, considered numerous studies that established a link between playing the violent games with an increase in aggressive thoughts, anti-social behavior and desensitization to violence in both minors and adults.

The state's goal was to promote parental authority to restrict a minor's ability to purchase such games. "Whatever First Amendment value these games may possess for adults, such games are simply not worthy of constitutional protection when sold to minors without parental participation," state lawyers wrote.

California will ask the Supreme Court to carve out a new exception to the First Amendment -- much like it has for obscenity -- that would cover the sale of the violent games.

The state argued that a juvenile's brain has not fully matured enough to handle behavior control and that the violence in the games could have a more lasting negative effect than it would for an adult.

But the Entertainment Merchants Association, which successfully challenged the law in lower courts, disagreed.

Paul Smith, who represents the industry, said the law, "is the latest in a long history of overreactions to new expressive media."

Smith argued that parents do not need the state's assistance in "deciding which expression is worthwhile to their children."

American consumers spend more than $10 billion a year on video games.

A federal appeals court ruled in favor of the industry, reasoning that the state hadn't established a sufficient link between the violent games and the physical and psychological harm to children.