WASHINGTON -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration on July 12 submitted a legal brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that governments should be able to ban youth access to videogames based on content, just as governments restrict youth access to sexually explicit material, without contravening First Amendment rights to free speech.
Immediately at stake is the fate of California's Assembly Bill 1179, which criminalizes selling or renting videogames deemed "violent" to consumers under age 18.
In the long term, the stakes could be much higher. If the high court sides with California in the case of Schwarzenegger vs. the Electronic Merchants Association, the videogame industry might see similar laws adopted in all 50 states and numerous municipalities.
Since the late 1990s, bans on "violent" games have been passed in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois, as well as in St. Louis and Indianapolis.
These videogame content laws were challenged in court and subsequently struck down on constitutional grounds. But such legislation remains popular among voters, prompting state legislatures to continue to pass similar measures.
If the Supreme Court justices uphold earlier findings by a California district court and a federal appeals court, which ruled AB 1179 unconstitutional, it could finally put an end to legislation of this type.
The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), approved by the California General Assembly in October 2005 and signed by Schwarzenegger. Implementation was immediately blocked by a district court. Lower courts quickly nullified the law, and in February 2009 the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld that ruling. Schwarzenegger then filed for Supreme Court reconsideration.
The EMA and its allies have until Sept. 10 to file a brief supporting the Ninth Circuit Court ruling. Oral arguments are expected this fall.