August 11, 2006

In another victory for Jenner & Block’s video game industry clients, a federal judge recently declared unconstitutional a Minnesota law that would have fined minors for obtaining certain video games rated “M” (Mature) or “AO” (Adults Only).  The law also would have required video game retailers to post conspicuous warning signs about the fine.

In granting the Firm’s motion for a permanent injunction, the court ruled that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  It is “clearly established” that video games are a constitutionally protected form of free speech, the court noted.  As such, content-based regulations like the Minnesota law are subject to the “highest level of scrutiny,” which requires the state to show a “compelling interest” in enforcing the law, among other things.

According to the opinion, the state’s purported interests in protecting minors from the harmful effects of violent video games are “inchoate.”  The court agreed with the Firm’s position that the alleged harm that graphic video games have on minors is “merely conjectural” and unsupported by substantial evidence.  Moreover, the court wrote, the State itself acknowledges that “it is entirely incapable of showing a causal link between the playing of video games and any deleterious effect on the psychological, moral, or ethical well-being of minors.”

Furthermore, in deeming the law unconstitutional, the court ruled that the signage requirement is a “forced declaration of an unenforceable law” that serves no legitimate governmental interest and amounts to a “state-mandated political declaration.”

This decision comes on the heels of several successful challenges by Jenner & Block against similar laws in California, Illinois and Michigan.  The Firm has also successfully represented the video game industry to defeat legislative attempts to censor video games in Washington and Missouri, and is currently representing the industry in challenging a similar law in Louisiana.

Partners Paul M. Smith and Katherine A. Fallow and Associates Matthew S. Hellman, Duane Pozza and Elizabeth Valentina represented the Entertainment Software Association and Entertainment Merchants Association in this matter.

Please click here to view the court’s decision.