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Interactive Digital Software Ass'n v. St. Louis County

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Citation Edit

Interactive Digital Software Ass'n v. St. Louis County, 329 F.3d 954 (8th Cir. 2003) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

A St. Louis ordinance made it unlawful to allow minors to play violent videogames without their parents’ consent. This lawsuit was filed against St. Louis County by the Interactive Digital Software Association and other organizations and companies that create, distribute and sell or rent videogames that claimed the statute was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The District Court held that videogames are not speech, and that even if they were, the ordinance was narrowly tailored to satisfy a compelling governmental interest.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The appellate court declared the statute unconstitutional, holding that the ordinance violated the First Amendment.

The court noted that

[i]f the First Amendment is versatile enough to "shield [the] painting of Jackson Pollack, music of Arnold Schoenberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll" — as the Supreme Court has said it is — "we see no reason why the pictures, graphic design, concept art, sounds, music, stories, and narrative present in video games are not entitled to a similar protection. The mere fact that they appear in a novel medium is of no legal consequence. Our review of the record convinces us that these "violent" video games contain stories, imagery, "age-old themes of literature," and messages, "even an 'ideology,' just as books and movies do."

The court classified the ordinance as a content-based restriction, because it applies only to violent videogames and thus regulates videogames based on their content. This meant that the ordinance was "presumptively invalid," and required St. Louis to prove that it was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest.

St. Louis argued that the ordinance served two compelling interests: "protecting the 'psychological well-being of minors'"; and "assisting parents to be the guardians of their children's well-being." However, the court ruled that St. Louis had not proved that either was a compelling interest.

The court found that St. Louis had failed to prove that the psychological health of children who play violent videogames suffers. In order to show the ordinance was constitutional, St. Louis should have offered "empirical support for its belief that 'violent' video game cause psychological harm to minors."

The court also observed that no Supreme Court decision had ever “suggest[ed] that the government’s role in helping parents to be the guardians of their children’s well-being is an unbridled license to governments to regulate what minors read and view.”

As a result, the court remanded the case to the District Court “for entry of an injunction” against enforcement of the ordinance.

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