Jack Thompson's Louisiana video game law was supposedly written as to be immune from constitutional challenges.
But it's not looking that way this morning.
Last evening Federal District Court Judge James Brady ruled in favor of the video game industry's request for a preliminary injunction to keep the law from taking effect. Granting the preliminary injunction indicates that Judge Brady believes the industry is likely to win the case on its merits when a final decision is rendered at some future point.
The judge's 30-page ruling took Thompson's law apart piece-by-piece. Judge Brady wrote, in part:
"The State's argument overlooks a line of cases holding that video games are protected free speech..."
"Defendants (Louisiana) contend that the legislative record contains social science evidence demonstrating that violent video games are harmful. It appears that much of the same evidence has been considered by numerous courts and in each case the connection was found to be tenuous and speculative..."
"The evidence that was submitted to the legislature in connection with the bill that became the statute is sparse and could hardly be called in any sense reliable..."
"Absent an injunction the statute will have a chilling effect on both video game developers and retailers."
"Additionally, the state argues that the Act was specifically drafted to pass constitutional scrutiny and it is the most narrowly drawn statute of its kind to date. Plaintiffs obviously disagree..."
And so, apparently, does Judge Brady.
Industry reaction has been received from the Entertainment Merchants Association, representing video game retailers and renters. In a press release, EMA president Bo Andersen said, "We also hope that this ruling will cause the State of Louisiana to rethink its position and abandon its strident defense of this misguided and poorly drafted law. A less wasteful approach for the State and its citizens would be for the State to encourage parents to utilize retailers as a source of information and make effective use of the industry's voluntary game ratings system."
Doug Lowenstein of the ESA added, "Throughout consideration of this legislation... we said this outcome was inevitable and that given the well documented problems facing the state of Louisiana, resources could be spent in a more productive way... In the post-Katrina era, voters should be outraged that the Legislature and Governor wasted their tax dollars on this ill-fated attack on video games. The irony is that only a year ago the state enacted legislation to give video game companies tax credits to locate in the state, only to turn around and create an utterly inhospitable environment."
Despite the near total dismissal of the legality of the Louisiana law, all was not rosy for the video game industry in Judge Brady's ruling. The jurist granted the state's request and dismissed Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti as a defendant.
Brady further ruled that the industry had failed to properly certify local district attorneys as a class of defendants. It therefore appears that the ruling, at least technically, applies only to East Baton Rouge Parrish, where District Attorney Doug Moreau was a named defendant. It is likely, however, that the industry will move to redress this deficiency. In the meantime, since the law itself has been more or less trashed by Judge Brady, its enforcement in other Louisiana parishes seems unlikely.
GP readers who want to check out Judge Brady's ruling can download it here in PDF format.