SCOTUS ruling on California game law expected Monday

The Supreme Court of the United States is expected to rule on Brown v. EMA (formerly Schwarzenegger v. EMA) next week, most likely on Monday. The case extends from a 2005 California law drafted by state senator Leland Yee, which restricts the sale of violent video games to anyone under 18, and would require special labels on offending games.

The law was suspended, then struck down, in a California district court due to a violation of the First Amendment. California appealed, but it was struck down again by the Ninth Circuit Court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, which went to the SCOTUS bench in April 2010.

The law attempted to use a variation of the Miller Test, which can be used to circumvent the First Amendment if a state can provide a compelling government interest in doing so, and in cases of obscenity. The Ninth Circuit Court rejected this argument, claiming that a compelling interest hadn't been shown. Obscenity laws generally refer strictly to sexual content, not violence.

When argued before the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia noted that obscenity law has never applied to violence, and expressed concerns about the First Amendment being undermined. Justice Ginsberg asked why video games are set apart from other forms of mass media like movies and comic books. The Justices seemed skeptical of the case on the whole, but grilled the EMA side on where one draws the line with protecting violent content.

While it is a state case, the ruling has the serious potential to impact the video game industry as a whole. A decision in the EMA's favor would grant video games the protection of the First Amendment from the highest US court, while a decision for California could inspire other states to draft similar laws. We'll be watching for the results.