U.S. Supreme Court Puts Corporate Interests Before Protecting Kids
Monday, June 27, 2011
Yee praises Justice Breyer for dissenting opinion; not surprised that Justice Scalia, others put corporate America first
SAN FRANCISCO – Using the strict scrutiny standard of the First Amendment, today the Supreme Court of the United States struck down California's law to prevent the sale and rental of excessively violent video games to children. While the decision was 7-2, only five justices (Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan) believed video games should be off limits to regulation, while two justices (Roberts, Alito) thought a law could be more narrowly tailored and two justices (Breyer, Thomas) believe California's law was in fact constitutional.
"Unfortunately, the majority of the Supreme Court once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children," said the law's author, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco). "As a result of their decision, Wal-Mart and the video game industry will continue to make billions of dollars at the expense of our kids' mental health and the safety of our community. It is simply wrong that the video game industry can be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children."
Yee also praised Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the more liberal justices on the Court and a San Francisco resident, who wrote the dissenting opinion.
"Justice Breyer, in his dissenting opinion, clearly understood the need to protect our children from the harmful effects of excessively violent video games and to give parents a tool in raising healthy kids," said Yee.
"Applying traditional First Amendment analysis, I would uphold the statute as constitutional on its face and would consequently reject the industries' facial challenge," wrote Breyer. "California's law imposes no more than a modest restriction on expression. The statute prevents no one from playing a video game, it prevents no adult from buying a video game, and it prevents no child or adolescent from obtaining a provided a parent is willing to help. All it prevents is a child or adolescent from buying, without a parent's assistance, a gruesomely violent video game of a kind that the industry itself tells us it wants to keep out of the hands of those under the age of 17."
In his dissenting opinion, Breyer asked, "What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?"
Breyer continued, "The interest that California advances in support of the statute is compelling. Extremely violent games can harm children by rewarding them for being violently aggressive in play, and thereby often teaching them to be violently aggressive in life. And video games can cause more harm in this respect than typically passive media, such as books or films or television programs. I can find no 'less restrictive' alternative to California's law that would be 'at least as effective.'"
Breyer concluded with, "This case is ultimately less about censorship than it is about education. Our Constitution cannot succeed in securing the liberties it seeks to protect unless we can raise future generations committed cooperatively to making our system of government work. Education, however, is about choices. Sometimes, children need to learn by making choices for themselves. Other times, choices are made for children – by their parents, by their teachers, and by the people acting democratically through their governments. In my view, the First Amendment does not disable government from helping parents make such a choice here – a choice not to have their children buy extremely violent, interactive video games, which they more than reasonably fear pose only the risk of harm to those children. For these reasons, I respectfully dissent."
"While we did not win today, I am certain that this eight year legislative and legal battle has raised the consciousness of this issue for many parents and grandparents, and has forced the video game industry to do a better job at appropriately rating these games," said Yee.
In 2005, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed the law – Assembly Bill 1179 – to prevent the sale and rental of violent video games that depict serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, to persons who are under 18 years of age. Retailers who violated the Act would have been liable in an amount up to $1,000 for each violation.
"Every major national medical association – including the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics – has concluded that exposure to violent video games causes an increase in aggressive behavior, physiological desensitization to violence, and decrease pro-social behavior," said Yee. "Thus, society has a direct, rational and compelling reason in marginally restricting a minor's access to violent video games."
In supporting California's video game law, eleven other states – Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia –submitted an amicus brief in support of California's law. In addition, Yee's effort has been supported by leading medical associations, civil rights organizations, child advocates, women's rights groups, and law enforcement, among others.