Gamers and free speech advocates alike scored a major victory today as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a controversial California law that restricts the sale or rental of violent videogames to minors. Following a majority vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the law violates the First Amendment, noting that California sought to "create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children. That is unprecedented and mistaken."
In October 2005, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was governor of California at the time, signed into a law a bill that would punish anyone who sells or rents a violent videogame to a minor with a $1,000 fine. Games classified as violent were any in which the player has the option of "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being."
"Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the ruling. "California's legislation straddles the fence between addressing a serious social problem and helping concerned parents control their children. Both ends are legitimate, but when they affect First Amendment rights they must be pursued by means that are neither seriously underinclusive nor seriously overinclusive."
As you might expect, the Entertainment Software Association was tickled pink by the ruling, stating that "the Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known -- that free speech protections apply every bit as much to videogames as they do to other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music."
California State Sen. Leland Yee wasn't nearly as thrilled, saying that today's ruling "put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children," and as a result, "Walmart and the videogame industry will continue to make billions of dollars at the expense of our kids' mental health and the safety of our community."