The Supreme Court decided today that prohibiting “violent games” from being sold to minors is not constitutional.
Last November, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from both sides regarding whether California’s proposed law could be legal in the United States. The bill equated certain videogames to guns or pornography, and made it a felony to sell such games to people under 18 years of age. The arguments by the Electronic Merchants Association were extremely persuasive, and there was high hope that the Supreme Justices would vote to strike down the law as a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, as you can read about here. Today, the decision of the nine Justices was announced, with the law being ruled invalid with a vote of 7-2.
Justice Scalia wrote the decision, with Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan signing on. Justice Alito felt strongly about the issue but disagreed with the court’s approach so he wrote his own concurring opinion, with Chief Justice Roberts agreeing with him. The dissenters, those who voted against the decision, were Justices Thomas and Breyer.
“Reading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat. But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones,” wrote Justice Alito in a footnote to Scalia’s opinion. “Crudely violent video games, tawdry TV shows, and cheap novels and magazines are no less forms of speech than The Divine Comedy, and restrictions upon them must survive strict scrutiny.”
The ECA and the EMA were instrumental in arguing in favor of the videogame industry, and they are predictably extremely happy with the decision. “We are thrilled by today’s news,” said Jennifer Mercurio, who was present at the oral arguments in November. “We had hoped that we would see this decision, and it’s been a long time coming. That being said, there will probably be one or two legislators who attempt to test these new parameters, and the ECA will continue to fight for the rights of entertainment consumers.”
The announcement is a major victory for the videogame industry. For years, games have been treated like scapegoats for the ills of our nation’s youth, and blamed for everything from school shootings to child obesity. The law proposed by California representative Leland Yee was part of that blame because it claimed that games were more harmful than books or movies and did not deserve the protection of the First Amendment.
I am glad that the highest legal authority in the United States saw through that argument and made what I feel is the right decision.
Breathe easier today, gamers. Videogames are here to stay.