US Supreme Court hears arguments on California law to ban video game sales to minors

Video game supporters protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Video game supporters protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Justin Ho/KPCC

Attorneys argued a First Amendment case involving a California law this morning before the U.S. Supreme Court. Two lower courts have already declared the state’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to children unconstitutional. Several justices on the nation’s highest court appear to agree.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether the First Amendment protection of free speech should be altered to protect children from the ill effects of violent video games. Justices asked how California could measure “excessive” violence.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wondered whether regulators could expand a ban to include violent films or comic books. Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that Grimm’s Fairy Tales were pretty grim, too.

Attorney Paul Smith, who represented the game industry, told the court and reporters outside that California overreacted in the name of protecting kids. "Every time some new medium comes along in this country," he said, "everybody goes crazy and says it’s turning our children into juvenile delinquents, whether it's comic books, movies or the Internet, and then five years later we say, 'all right, well it’s just another way of delivering the same content.' And that’s exactly what video games do in a very effective, interactive way, but they’re just methods of delivering content that is protected speech in this country."

Outside the court, State Senator Leland Yee stood by the measure he’d written. "Regardless of the outcome of this court decision," he said, "the Supreme Court of this United States is asking, 'what’s wrong with giving parents some control?'”

Not all the justices expressed skepticism. Chief Justice John Roberts and others suggested that a narrower prohibition might pass constitutional muster. The high court is expected to hand down a decision by July.

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