Interview: Leland Yee After SCOTUS Throws Out His Violent Video Game Ban

Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
The Supreme Court today nullified a California law that would restrict access for minors to violent video games. AP report below.

KQED’s Joshua Johnson talked to local State Sen. Leland Yee, the author of the bill, after the ruling came down. Yee said he was disappointed but would review the decision to look for a way to re-craft the law so that it addresses the court’s freedom of speech concerns.

Audio and partial edited transcript below. Fun aural note: Yee’s unintentional portmanteau when referring to this two-headed jurist: “Justice Scalito.”

Leland Yee on SCOTUS decision striking down his law restricting access for minors to violent video games :http://ww2.kqed.org/news/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2011/06/LelandYeeGames.mp3|titles=LelandYeeGames

I’m clearly disappointed by this decision. Once again the Supreme Court is siding with corporate America and Walmart against our children. I think the saving grace in the decision is that there were a number of dissenting opinions. Breyer, Alito, Kennedy…

But what the court missed is the fact that these ultra-violent video games are different technology than books, and it has a different effect on our children. It is not passive looking and passive reading of material. It’s actively doing things and changing your brain connection, changing your behavior, and that’s what is particularly harmful to our children.

And this…

One of the difficulties in terms of parents: We will never know the full extent of the cruelty and the violence in any of these games, because you have to be sophisticated enough to open the game into those higher levels of violence.

As a result, many parents will not know what they’re kids are playing. This is different than a movie. You watch a movie for two hours and you see everything. Within a game are embedded different levels of violence and it’s only if you are sophisticated enough to do the low-level violence that you get to experience the high-level violence.

For many parents who are not that sophisticated in this technology, you’ll never get to that higher level and therefore you’ll never know what kinds of activities your kids are engaged in…

Lee also appeared on KQED Radio’s Forum program today, along with a senior vice president of communications and industry affairs for the Electronic Software Association. LISTEN HERE.

Here’s the AP article on today’s ruling:

WASHINGTON (AP) – WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday refused to let California regulate the sale or rental of violent video games to children, saying governments do not have the power to “restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed” despite complaints about graphic violence.

On a 7-2 vote, the high court upheld a federal appeals court decision to throw out the state’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento had ruled that the law violated minors’ rights under the First Amendment, and the high court agreed.

“No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion. “But that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

The California law would have prohibited the sale or rental of violent games to anyone under 18. Retailers who violated the act would have been fined up to $1,000 for each infraction.

More than 46 million American households have at least one video-game system, with the industry bringing in at least $18 billion in 2010.

Unlike depictions of “sexual conduct,” Scalia said there is no tradition in the United States of restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, pointing out the violence in the original depiction of many popular children’s fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White.

Hansel and Gretel kill their captor by baking her in an oven, Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves and the evil queen in Snow White is forced to wear red hot slippers and dance until she is dead, Scalia said.

“Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore,” Scalia added.

But Justice Clarence Thomas, who dissented from the decision along with Justice Stephen Breyer, said the majority read something into the First Amendment that isn’t there.

“The practices and beliefs of the founding generation establish that “the freedom of speech,” as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors’ parents or guardians,” Thomas wrote.

The law was written by State Sen. Leland Yee.

Read a .pdf of the ruling here.

Related

  • Dan Brekke

    Also worth noting is Justice Breyer’s dissent (I’m guessing you can count on one hand the number of decisions where he’s been with Thomas alone on the dissenting side of a decision). Breyer (generally considered a liberal) says:

    “The majority … creates a serious anomaly in First Amendment law. Ginsberg [a 1969 opinion on a New York anti-obscenity law] makes clear that a State can prohibit the sale to minors of depictions of nudity; today the Court makes clear that a State cannot prohibit the sale to minors of the most vio­lent interactive video games. But what sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale to that 13­-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then torturesand kills her? What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when the woman—bound, gagged, tortured, and killed—is also
    topless?”

    • DrSpeech

      Congrats, you noted one dissent that nobody else joined.  Why does this matter?

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