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Ten U.S. Attorneys General Join Game Industry In Supreme Court Battle

Ten U.S. Attorneys General Join Game Industry In Supreme Court Battle

September 20, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

September 20, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to reconsider California's violent video game legislation, the number of supporters backing the existing ruling has grown to over 180. That's according to the Entertainment Software Association, which says that First Amendment experts, researchers and media organizations of all types are filing new amicus briefs.

Attorneys general for Rhode Island, Arkansas, Georgia, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington State, have also joined the fray with a brief submission [PDF, via Legaltimes].

In it, they argue that California's statute, which would formally illegalize the sale of video games deemed "excessively violent" to minors and provide government-mandated penalties to retailers, could do more harm than good.

In the brief, they call the legislation a "quick fix" that would "cause more practical and constitutional problems, in expanding unneeded regulatory activity and hindering law enforcement, than they solve."

"The potential negative impacts on State government and State citizens are important enough that the undersigned feel compelled to voice their concerns," the attorneys general write. Attorneys general for Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia also filed an amicus brief earlier this year.

At the same time, a collection of 82 scholars, social scientists and researchers have filed briefs [PDF, via the Entertainment Consumers' Association] challenging the data California employs to back its legislation. The argument that unrestricted sales of violent media cause harm to kids, they say, is damaged by the fact "they document neither a causal connection nor a correlation between the playing of violent video games and violent, aggressive, or antisocial behavior."

Federal courts have repeatedly struck down the legislation in question -- 12 times, according to the ESA -- as unconstitutional, on the basis that video games are First Amendment speech and deserve the same protections thereunder as other media. The Federal Trade Commission has also praised the game industry's self-regulatory initiatives.

The case names the ESA and the Entertainment Merchants' Association as formal respondents, and those trade bodies have already filed their own briefs in the case on September 10. The Supreme Court will begin hearing the case on November 2.

Late last week, several other media groups also registered their opposition to the legislation. Advocacy organization Media Coalition, in conjunction with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Freedom to Read Foundation, National Association of Recording Merchandisers, Recording Industry Association of America and multiple other associations united to file an amicus brief. The MPAA, LucasFilm and the Screen Actors Guild have filed a separate brief. The International Game Developers Association and the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences also filed a joint brief in support of the industry.

Those groups also echoed the assertion that there is no generally accepted study that finds violent video games lead to violent behavior in youth.

California senator Leland Yee is the bill's original author, and state Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger originally signed it into law in 2005. California's 9th Circuit Court declared it unconstitutional on free speech grounds in February 2009 -- but a state appeal now brings the statute under Supreme Court review. The court will rule on the measure, and has the option of upholding it.

"The depth, diversity and high quality of briefs submitted strengthens our position before the Court," says ESA president and CEO Michael Gallagher. "These briefs are rooted in virtually every form of expression, commerce, social science, and constitutional jurisprudence imaginable."

"It is our hope that the Court will uphold an unbroken chain of lower court rulings that affirm video games First Amendment protections, the rights of consumers access to speech, and that parents - not government - are the best arbiters in determining what is right for their children," Gallagher adds.

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