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4/26/2010
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Supreme Court To Review Video Game Law

At issue is whether video games deserve the free speech protection afforded other forms of expression.

The United States Supreme Court on Monday agreed to review a lower court's decision that blocked a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors.

The law, AB 1179, forbids the sale of violent video games to anyone under the age of 18, requires labels on violent video games, and calls for a fine of $1,000 for anyone who rents of sells such a game to a minor.

The Video Software Dealers Association and Entertainment Software Association, two industry trade groups, filed a lawsuit challenging the law and in 2007 a U.S. District Court overturned it.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appealed the decision, but in February 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling.

In May of that year, Schwarzenegger asked the Supreme Court to review the case. With the high court's acceptance of the case on Monday, he issued a statement reaffirming his support for the controversial law.

"We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of games that depict ultra-violent actions, just as we already do with movies," he said. "I am pleased the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take up this issue, and I look forward to a decision upholding this important law that gives parents more tools to protect their children, including the opportunity to determine what video games are appropriate."

Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, said in a statement that courts have consistently ruled that content-based regulation represents an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. He also noted that research indicates that the public supports free speech protection for video and computer games.

"As the Court recognized last week in the U.S. v. Stevens case, the First Amendment protects all speech other than just a few 'historic and traditional categories' that are 'well-defined and narrowly limited,'" he said. "We are hopeful that the Court will reject California's invitation to break from these settled principles by treating depictions of violence, especially those in creative works, as unprotected by the First Amendment."

In U.S. v. Stevens, the Supreme Court ruled that a ban on depicting animal cruelty violated the First Amendment -- a ruling that had no bearing on the illegality of acts of animal cruelty.

Michael L. Lovitz, an attorney at law firm Buchalter Nemer in Los Angeles, said he believes the Supreme Court is likely to uphold the lower court's ruling. "It seems to me that the 9th Circuit was pretty much dead-on in its decision," he said in a phone interview. "The State's evidence really was insufficient to support the high burden that it had to meet, particularly given that the industry has set up a self-regulating, neutral board to rate games."

Lovitz suggests that it is the nature of our political system that politicians back laws of dubious constitutionality to address issues that strike an emotional chord with voters. "If they come across an issue they believe their constituents are concerned with, it behooves them to address it if they want to get reelected," he said.

The beauty of the U.S. legal system, he said, is that the courts have the opportunity to balance such reactions.

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