First Amendment Protected in Case Involving Video Game Violence

Judge Whyte of the District Court of Northern California granted a preliminary injunction preventing a California statute from going into effect on January 1, 2006. The Act required that violent video games be labelled, and prevented the sale or rental of these video games to minors.

In his decision, Judge Whyte determined that video games are protected by the First Amendment. Whyte stated that strict scrutiny applies in this case, which provides that a state may impose a content-based restriction only if it has a compelling interest and has chosen the least restrictive means to further the interest. The statute was not found to satisfy these tests.

Judge Whyte also protected the First Amendment rights of minors. The court stated that it was not clear that the State could restrict minors' access to violent video games even if it could show a causal link between access to such games and violent behavior by minors.

The State likely will face the same problems of proof as Illinois did with its law. Specifically, the court noted that the Illinois district court was concerned that Dr. Anderson's research did not establish a causal link between violent video games and violent behavior, did not assess the significance of any link, and did not compare video games to other forms of media violence. 

The court went on to say that it "anticipates that the defendants here may face similar problems proving the California legislature made 'reasonable inferences based on substantial evidence.'" The judge held that Plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their argument that the labeling provisions are unconstitutional.