Legislative efforts to keep ultraviolent and sexually explicit videogames away from children are running into a legal roadblock: the First Amendment. Federal judges in Illinois and Michigan in recent weeks have blocked laws that banned sales to children of videogames such as "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." The judges found that the states failed to offer compelling reasons to restrict the free-speech rights of game makers and players. The decisions continue a string of defeats for restrictive laws dating back to 2001.
The battle isn't over. Yesterday a trio of Democratic senators with presidential ambitions introduced federal legislation that they believe can pass constitutional muster. The legislation, unveiled at a press conference by Democratic senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana, would essentially codify the industry's current voluntary rating system. It assigns games letters from "EC," meaning appropriate for early childhood, to "AO" for "adults only." Retailers who sell games rated "mature," "adults only" or "ratings pending" to children under 17 could face fines of $5,000 per violation.