Monday, August 6, 2007

California Game Law: Unconsitutional

Full opinion available here.

As could have been predicted based on other verdicts, the California game legislation has been struck down, in whole. While the court never reached the labeling requirement, it struck down the act as a whole under a strict scrutiny test. For those not familiar, strict scrutiny requires that a government use the least restrictive means of accomplishing their goal, narrowly tailor their legislation to the issue, and have a compelling government interest in the regulation. The court commented on two of these elements.

On having a compelling interest, the court stated:
Although Judge Posner's comments emphasize the need to proceed carefully in restricting a minor's exposure to violence, the Act nevertheless passes the first requirement of strict scrutiny as the government has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors. The state can legitimately restrict speech if such a restriction is narrowly tailored and will prevent or significantly decrease the likelihood of antisocial and aggressive behavior in minors—not merely how a minor thinks of violence.

On least restrictive means, the court stated:
To pass the strict scrutiny test, therefore, the state must demonstrate that the industry labeling standards, either alone or combined with technological controls that enable parents to limit which games their children play, do not equally address the state's interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of children.

In conclusion, the court states:
The legislature does have the power, despite Brandenburg, to enact legislation that limits a minor's First Amendment rights if the legislation can be shown to truly protects a minor's psychological and physical well-being and is narrowly drafted to pass strict scrutiny. However, at this point, there has been no showing that violent video games as defined in the Act, in the absence of other violent media, cause injury to children. In addition, the evidence does not establish that video games, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related exposures. Although some reputable professional individuals and organizations have expressed particular concern about the interactive nature of video games, there is no generally-accepted study that supports that concern. There has also been no detailed study to differentiate between the effects of violent videos on minors of different ages.

What does this all mean? The issue is twofold. First, the court finds that the labeling requirement may not actually achieve the goals set forth by the government. Second, the court finds that there is not substantial and compelling evidence that games really influence minors independently of other entertainment media.

I imagine the most compelling question left is whether the New York legislature will abandon the issue in the wake of yet another video game regulation being struck down. While the California case wouldn't be binding on New York in its current state, it still seems likely that a similar result would be reached.

[Via GamePolitics]

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