The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether California and six other states can forbid the sale to minors of violent video games that show images of humans being maimed, killed or sexually assaulted.
California’s law, like all the others, has been blocked based on a free-speech challenges lodged by the video gaming industry.
But in something of a surprise, the high court said it would hear California’s appeal and consider reviving the laws.
The move came less than a week after the justices, in a 8-1 ruling, struck down a federal law on free-speech grounds that made it a crime to sell videos of illegal acts of animal cruelty. The court’s opinion gave two reasons for declaring the law unconstitutional. First, the justices said the law created a new category of unprotected expression, and second, they said it was so broad that it could reach beyond the torture of animals and apply to out-of-season hunting.
While the animal cruelty case was pending, the court held on to the appeal in the California case of violent video games. Based on last week’s ruling, the justices might have been expected to deny the appeal and to allow the law to expire.
Instead, they voted to grant the appeal and hear the case in the fall.
This suggests some justices believe that the California law could be upheld as narrowly targeted because it focuses on minors and applies to videos that “appeal to a deviant and morbid interest” in violence, as the state has argued.
The other states that have enacted similar laws include Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Washington.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday issued a statement after the Supreme Court announced its decision.
“We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of games that depict ultra-violent actions, just as we already do with movies. I am pleased the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take up this issue, and I look forward to a decision upholding this important law that gives parents more tools to protect their children, including the opportunity to determine what video games are appropriate.”
California’s ban, which was signed into law by Schwarzenegger in 2005, would impose a civil fine on retailers who sell or rent to minors video games that were labeled as violent. But before it could go into effect, the Entertainment Software Assn. and the Video Software Dealers Assn. went to court and a federal judge blocked the law from being enforced. Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 3-0 ruling said the ban was unconstitutional.
The justices will hear the case in the fall.