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SCOTUS Upholds 9th Circuit Opinion on California Video Game Law

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 28, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The California video game law case was decided this week.

Decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, that is. Several years back the case had already been decided by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its decision on Monday, the Supreme Court held that the California video game law was unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment's right to free speech. The disputed law placed a limitation on the sale of violent video games to minors.

Let's look at the history of this case before the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit case, heard in 2009, was an appeal on the granting of summary judgment by the district court in favor of the plaintiffs and the denial of a cross motion by the California government. The district court lawsuit sought declaratory relief to invalidate Civil Code sections 1746-1746.5, which would impose restrictions and a labeling requirement on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

The Ninth Circuit held that the video game law was subject to strict scrutiny as a content-based restriction. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the law, under strict scrutiny, didn’t hold up as the state of California had not demonstrated a compelling interest. Furthermore, the law was not narrowly enough tailored to suit any compelling interest. Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit felt that there existed a less restrictive means to further the state’s interest.

As cited in the Ninth Circuit opinion, the California Legislature had the intent to prevent violent, aggressive and antisocial behavior and neurological harm to minors who play violent video games. The Ninth Circuit focused its analysis on looking at whether the state of California sought to prevent actual harm or whether the state sought to control thoughts, finding the latter to be impermissible under the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit, in its examination of these issues, ruled there was not sufficient evidence showing that the legislature would accomplish its objectives through enactment of the law and as such, the state failed to show that it had a compelling interest.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week showed the reaches of the First Amendment protections. Justice Scalia pointed out that these decisions are best left to the parents, yet advocates of the California video game law are saying that the decision undermines parental authority on violent video games.

We’re likely to hear the debate on this issue go on for some time, despite the final word on the case from the High Court.

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