The state of Minnesota has filed an appeal of a recent 8th Circuit Court decision which invalidated its 2006 "fine the buyer" video game law.
Perhaps more than any previous case, the unusual Minnesota law, which would fine underage buyers of violent games $25, has a chance to beat the video game industry's legal challenges.
As previously reported on GamePolitics, the Minnesota statute was signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) on June 1st, 2006. The game industry immediately filed suit to block its implementation on constitutional grounds.
Eight weeks later a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Then-Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch (D) filed an appeal.
In February, 2007 a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit heard arguments in the case. As GamePolitics reported at the time, audio of the hearing revealed the panel to be skeptical of some game industry arguments.
Last month the 8th Circuit issued its finding that the law was unconstitutional. But, as we noted in our coverage, the Court expressed a certain degree of sympathy for Minnesota's position, accepting research put forth by the state to a degree that no previous court has:
We believe that the State’s evidence provides substantial support for its contention that violent video games have a deleterious effect upon the psychological well-being of minors...
We are not as dismissive of that evidence as have been some of the courts that have found similar evidence to be inadequate to establish the causal link between exposure to violent video games and subsequent behavior.
Because the three-judge panel was bound by a prior 8th Circuit ruling in the 2003 IDSA vs. St. Louis County case, there was never really a doubt that they would find in favor of the video game industry. However the opinion written by Judge Wolman could be viewed as inviting the state to appeal en banc. If that were to occur, the case would be re-argued before the full 8th Circuit as opposed to a three-judge panel. This might be an attractive strategy for the state because only an en banc decision could reverse the earlier IDSA vs. St. Louis ruling.
Indeed, this process is already underway. We note that the Media Coalition's tracking of the case indicates that Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (D, pictured) filed a petition for an en banc hearing on March 28th. This excerpt is taken from the state's en banc request:
The panel [stated] that it was bound by the precedent set by another panel of the Court in [IDSA] v. St. Louis County... Nevertheless, the panel questioned the analysis of the [IDSA] decision. (stating that [IDSA's] “requirement of such a high level of proof may reflect a refined estrangement from reality, but apply it we must”).
Because of the importance of the issue of whether the State can lawfully restrict minors’ access to extremely violent and patently offensive video games, this case should be considered by the entire Court.
The video game industry has until April 21st to respond the Minnesota's petition for an en banc hearing.
In related news, the video game industry is seeking to recover $60,458.91 in legal fees from Minnesota, but A.G. Swanson has filed a motion to delay any action on that request while the en banc issue is resolved.
The bottom line?
Don't count Minnesota's video game law out just yet.