First Amendment Fire Power: United States Supreme Court Applies Strict Scrutiny, Rejects Ban on Violent Video Games

Justice Antonin Scalia and his teammates mowed down California’s ban on violent video games with fully loaded First Amendment precedents and barbed retorts to opposing arguments. In doing so, the Supreme Court reinforced a fundamental point: that First Amendment protections do not depend on the medium of communication. Thus, video games are protected speech, and restrictions based on their content will be subject to strict scrutiny.

The California law at issue prohibited the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, and imposed a civil penalty of $1,000 for every violation. At the heart of the law was a definition of the restricted games as those games “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted” in a manner that “[a] reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors,” that is “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors,” and that “causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

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