Court strikes down Ill. video-game law

Monday, December 5, 2005

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A federal judge ruled on Dec. 2 that Illinois' restrictions on the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors are unconstitutional. He barred the state from enforcing the law.


State officials “have come nowhere near” demonstrating that the law passes constitutional muster, said U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly.


Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and other supporters of the measure argued that children were being harmed by exposure to games in which characters go on killing sprees or sexual escapades.


Opponents declared the law a restriction on free speech and pointed out that similar laws had been struck down in other states.


“It's unfortunate that the state of Illinois spent taxpayer money defending this statute. This is precisely what we told them would happen,” said David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, one of the groups that sued over the law.


Blagojevich said he would appeal the ruling.


“Parents should be able to expect that their kids will not have access to excessively violent and sexually explicit video games without their permission,” he said.


Other states this year approved similar legislation after hidden sex scenes were discovered in a popular game, “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” California's version, set to go into effect Jan. 1, is among those being challenged in court.


The Illinois law, which also was to go into effect Jan. 1, would have barred stores from selling or renting extremely violent or sexual games to minors and allowed $1,000 fines for violators.


The Illinois law's opponents said it would have a chilling effect, discouraging retailers and game makers from marketing mature games even to adults. And they questioned why state officials were singling out video games when violent and sexual images appear elsewhere.


Kennelly agreed with both points.


“If controlling access to allegedly 'dangerous' speech is important in promoting the positive psychological development of children, in our society that role is properly accorded to parents and families, not the state,” he said.


The judge said the law would interfere with the First Amendment and that there wasn't a compelling enough reason, such as preventing imminent violence, to allow that.


“In this country, the state lacks the authority to ban protected speech on the ground that it affects the listener's or observer's thoughts and attitudes,” Kennelly wrote.

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