8th Circuit Upholds Permanent Injunction Against Minnesota’s Law Restricting Video Game Sales/Rentals to Minors
Categories: Violent Game Law Cases
ESA v. Minnesota (March 17, 2008 – 8th Cir Court of Appeals)
Click to hear Oral Arguments on Appeal (Feb 12, 2007)
Text of Appeal (Aug 29, 2006)
Permanent Injunction (July 31, 2006 – District Court)
Text of Complaint (June 6, 2006)
Text of Enjoined Bill (May 22, 2006)
In another of a long line of such U.S. First Amendment video game cases, The United States 8th Circuit upheld the July 2006 permanent injunction enjoining Minnesota from enforcing a law that would have: (i) imposed $25 fines on children under 17 who bought or rented video games rated M (Mature) or AO (Adults only); and (ii) required retailers to post signs informing consumers of the law. The appellate court’s reasoning was as follows:
- Video games are protected free speech (as per Interactive Digital Software Ass’n v St. Louis County, 329 F.3d 954, 958 (8th Cir. 2003)).
- As such, video game rental/purchase restrictions imposed by law must pass the ‘strict scrutiny‘ test, namely the law must: (i) be necessary to serve a compelling state interest; and (ii) be narrowly tailored to achieve that end.
- The state argued that the compelling interest at stake was that of ‘safeguarding the psychological well being and moral and ethical development of minors’.
- While the interest may be compelling in the abstract, in order to prevail the state must provide real and empirical support for its belief that ‘violent’ video games cause such harm – not merely conjecture.
- The court agreed that Minnesota offered substantial evidence in support of its contention that video games cause such harm, but nonetheless ruled that the evidence fell short of the statistical certainty of causation required by the Interactive decision.
Wollman (CJ) noted:
Indeed, a good deal of the Bible portrays scenes of violence, and one would be hard-pressed to hold up as a proper role model the regicidal Macbeth. Although some might say that it is risible to compare the violence depicted in the examples offered by the State to that described in classical literature, such violence has been deemed by our court worthy of First Amendment protection, and there the matter stands.
The court did not go as far as other courts in deciding that the evidence did not establish a causal link between exposure to violent video games and subsequent behavior. Rather, it concluded:
Whatever our intuitive (dare we say common sense) feelings regarding the effect that the extreme violence portrayed in the above-described video games may well have upon the psychological well-being of minors, Interactive Video requires us to hold that, having failed to come forth with incontrovertible proof of a causal relationship between the exposure to such violence and subsequent psychological dysfunction, the State has not satisfied its evidentiary burden. The requirement of such a high level of proof may reflect a refined estrangement from reality, but apply it we must.
One wonders if Woman CJ was inviting the Supreme Court to take a look at, and perhaps overturn, Interactive on appeal.