(Editor's note: The Associated Press reported Aug. 23 that the city of Indianapolis had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review its violent video-arcade game ordinance.)
INDIANAPOLIS — A federal appeals court panel has ruled that Indianapolis' ordinance restricting children's access to violent video arcade games cannot be enforced.
In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' on March 23 granted the coin-operated video-game industry's request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that the law significantly "curtails freedom of expression."
The panel's decision could pave the way for a U.S. Supreme Court review of the arcade ordinance, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
The city had argued that the ordinance was needed to protect minors from harmful influences. But the panel said the city might actually harm, rather than help, children by attempting to control the ideas to which they are exposed.
"To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it," Judge Richard Posner wrote for the panel.
He added that such limitations also might impede a child's intellectual development.
"Now that eighteen-year-olds have the right to vote, it is obvious that they must be allowed the freedom to form their political views on the basis of uncensored speech before they turn eighteen," he wrote. "People are unlikely to become well-functioning, independent-minded adults and responsible citizens if they are raised in an intellectual bubble."
Posner also said that the ordinance would not prevent minors from being exposed to violence.
"Violent video games played in public places are a tiny fraction of the media violence to which modern American children are exposed," he wrote. "Tiny — and judging from the record of this case not very violent compared to what is available to children on television and in movie theaters today."
The panel's ruling reverses a decision handed down by a federal district court judge in October. That ruling allowed the city to enforce the ban until the court ruled on its constitutional merits.
The case now returns to the lower court for a ruling on the constitutional issue.
Mayor Bart Peterson said the city would fight on in court, but said the city's attorneys hadn't decided what step to take next.
"It would be a shame to quit at this point without pressing this on to a final decision," Peterson told The Indianapolis Star.
City attorney Scott Chinn said the city has three options in court: appeal the enforcement issue to the U.S. Supreme Court; seek a second opinion from the appellate division; or try to defend the ordinance on its merits in the lower court.
Peterson said his administration could also draft a new ordinance based on the ruling, choosing language that would pass judicial review more easily. But he said that was unlikely.
Since its approval last summer, the ordinance has set the arcade industry and free-speech advocates against Peterson, who says the ordinance will help shield children from violence.
The ordinance requires coin-operated games featuring graphic violence or strong sexual content to have warning labels and be kept at least 10 feet from any nonviolent game machines. They must also be separated by a curtain or wall so minors cannot view them.
The measure bars people under the age of 18 from such games unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Under the measure, the city could have fined arcade owners $200 per day for each violation.
Elliott Portnoy, an attorney for the arcade industry, said he was confident about the signals the 7th Circuit panel sent in its decision.
"It's a very strong decision," he said.
It isn't clear what effect the ruling would have on a bill pending before the Indiana General Assembly that requires parents to be present while minors play violent games.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, said the ruling might delay approval of the measure.