19th-leland-yee.jpgThe U.S. Supreme Court by a 7-2 vote today struck down a California law that banned the sale or rental of violent video games to children under the age of 18.

The court majority said the games are protected by the First Amendment right of free speech.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Like protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas–and even social messages.

“That suffices to confer First Amendment protection,” Scalia wrote.

The court ruled in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Jose in 2005 by two industry groups, the Entertainment Merchants Association and the Entertainment Software Association.

The 2005 law, written by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, would have fined stores $1,000 for selling violent video games to minors. It was blocked from going into effect by an injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte of San Jose.

Yee said today, “Unfortunately, the majority of the Supreme Court once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children.”

Yee said he “absolutely” will consider proposing a narrower law that might pass muster with the high court.

“We’re poring through the opinions to see where we can create a pathway for a successful bill that could withstand a challenge,” Yee said.

But Michael Gallagher, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association, said, “This is a historic and complete win for the First Amendment and the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere.”

Gallagher said, “The court declared forcefully that content-based restrictions on games are unconstitutional; and that parents, not government bureaucrats, have the right to decide what is appropriate for their children.”

Scalia said in the majority opinion that the California law didn’t fit into limited restrictions on free speech historically allowed by the courts to restrict obscenity and incitement to violence.

The court upheld similar rulings in which the ban was found unconstitutional by Whyte in 2007 and by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in 2009.

Two high court justices–Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito–agreed in a concurring opinion that the law should be struck down, but said a narrower law might be found constitutional. Two other justices, Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas, dissented from the majority.

Yee said he will be studying the concurring and dissenting opinions to try to develop a revised bill.

“The evidence is absolutely crystal clear that there are harmful effects on our children,” Yee asserted.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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