The office of California State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) let us know that the state’s Attorney General Jerry Brown (D-Oakland) will submit California’s written argument to the Supreme Court, which voices the Golden State’s backing of a law that would make it illegal to rent or sell “excessively” violent videogames to children.
Yee is, of course, the original author of the law (AB 1179), which has made it all the way to the front of the Supreme Court in the form of Schwarzenegger v. EMA.
Citing a SCOTUS decision in United States v. Stevens, in which the Court declined to ban media depicting animal cruelty, Yee indicated that the law may have been constitutional if it was more focused, stating, “Clearly, the justices want to look specifically at our narrowly tailored law that simply limits sales of ultra-violent games to kids without prohibiting speech.”
We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder. The video game industry should not be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.
An excerpt from the petitioners brief on the merits was included, it follows:
California's law promotes parental authority to restrict unsupervised minors’ ability to consume a narrow category of material in order to protect minors’ physical and psychological welfare, as well as their ethical and moral development. California has a vital interest in supporting parental supervision over the amount of offensively violent material minors consume. The Act ensures that parents – who have primary responsibility for the well-being of minors – have an opportunity to involve themselves in deciding what level of video game violence is suitable for a particular minor.”
It is well-recognized that the societal values served by the freedom to consume expressive material do not justify recognizing a constitutional right for minors of the same magnitude as that for adults – and this should be true whether the expressive material is sexually explicit or offensively violent. Instead, while minors certainly enjoy the protection of the First Amendment, it is a more restricted right than that assured to adults, who may judge for themselves what level of sexually-explicit or violent material they should consume.
The First Amendment has never been understood as guaranteeing minors unfettered access to offensively violent material. Such material shares the same characteristics as other forms of unprotected speech, especially sexually explicit material. Throughout history, many states have enacted laws that regulate the sale of both sexual and violent material to minors. Such restrictions reflect society’s understanding that violent material can be just as harmful to the well-being of minors as sexually explicit material. This is further reflected in the fact that violence can strip constitutional protection from otherwise protected material. Sexually explicit material that would be otherwise protected for distribution to adults can be considered obscene given the violent nature of its depiction. No rational justification exists for treating violent material so vastly different than sexual material under the First Amendment when reviewing restrictions on distribution to minors.
SCOTUS granted California’s petition for a writ of certiorari in April of this year. A decision should emerge from the Supreme Court on the matter later this year.