SCOTUS Decision Focus of Public Radio Discussion

Southern California Public Radio yesterday aired a 30-minute segment (MP3) on the California violent videogame law that will be discussed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

California State Senator Leland Yee appeared, and voiced much of the same opinions that he offered up through a mini-podcast his camp released yesterday. Representing the other side was Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) VP of Public Affairs Sean Bersell.

Bersell framed the current drama as he sees it:

The lower court opinions in this case, just followed long-standing Supreme Court precedence, that found that these kinds of restrictions are unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment. They are perfectly in accord with the Constitution.

This is a content-based restriction. Content-based restrictions are presumptively invalid under the First Amendment.

The show’s host then posed a hypothetical question about a violent game, which also featured extreme sexual content, and asked if the law would be on the side of keeping that material out of the hands of kids.

Bersell answered:

Sexual content is a unique area of the law. An exception to the First Amendment has been carved out for obscene material or for material that’s obscene for minors. Some material that may be protected by the First Amendment is not permissible for minors. If it’s patently offensive to what the community thinks is appropriate for minors… all sexual thresholds… The court has consistently said that obscenity law is restricted to sex.

What this law tries to do is to cab an obscenity law on to violence and to create a sort of violence as obscenity law. And the courts have been consistent that obscenity law is for sexual expression only and not for other types of expression like violence.

Another part of the broadcast had Yee, a child psychologist, explain why "cause and effect" studies are difficult to undertake. "In a free society, you can’t do the kinds of studies that the opposition of my bill is asking for," stated Yee. "You can’t randomly select individuals and put them in one experimental group whereby they have to play these violent videogames."

The host then interjected, “That would be abusive for the kids…” To which Lee replied, “Exactly.”

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