MSU College of Law



May 18, 2010


MSU Law Professor a Leading Expert on Issue Headed to U.S. Supreme Court

East Lansing, MI – Michigan State University College of Law Professor Kevin Saunders, the nation's leading expert advocating restrictions on youth access to violent media, will likely play an important role in support of California's upcoming appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation's highest court recently granted a writ of certiorari in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, agreeing to review the case during its 2010-11 session, which begins in October. The case involves a California statute prohibiting the sale of violent video games to anyone under the age of 18; industry groups challenged the law as a violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court's ruling in favor of the software dealers, holding that the state did not present sufficient evidence directly linking violent video games with harm to minors.

In its petition, California argues that the lower court's application of a "strict scrutiny" standard was incorrect, and that the statute should be upheld as long as it was "not irrational for the legislature to find that exposure to material condemned by the statute is harmful to minors." The state further claims that the material in question–"patently offensive violence that appeals to a deviant or morbid interest and has no socially redeeming value for minors"–is no more entitled to Constitutional protection than is sexually explicit material.

The California appellants' latter argument is bolstered by Professor Saunders' extensive scholarship on the issue. The author of Violence as Obscenity: Limiting the Media's First Amendment Protection and Saving Our Children from the First Amendment, Saunders has long contended that the obscenity exception to the First Amendment should be extended to violent material, as well as sexual content.

Laws such as California's, he said, recognize that parents should have primary responsibility for monitoring minors' access to violent media. "Parents need to play an active role in deciding what is appropriate for their children," Saunders explained. "This law would leave it to parents to buy the games they will allow their children to play, taking the decision out of the hands of retailers."

Professor Saunders testified during the 2005 California State Assembly Judiciary Committee hearings on the issue at the invitation of Leland Yee, who authored the bill and is now a California state senator. Saunders is expected either to serve as a consultant for the State of California as it prepares to argue its case before the U.S. Supreme Court, or to submit an amicus curiae brief in its support.

Several similar state statutes limiting the distribution of violent video games have been examined by federal courts of appeal; all were struck down as unconstitutional. "It is interesting that the Supreme Court granted certiorari here, despite the fact that there is no circuit split," said Saunders. "It leads one to believe that at least a few members of the Court think the circuits are wrong."

Professor Saunders, recently named the Charles Clarke Chair in Constitutional Law at Michigan State University College of Law, has also authored more than thirty law review and journal articles, seven book chapters, and numerous commentaries in legal and popular periodicals, most focusing on First Amendment issues involved in restricting youth access to violent media. Saunders has testified on the topic before U.S. House and Senate committees, as well as in front of the Michigan State Senate Judiciary Committee. He teaches a variety of courses and seminars on topics in Constitutional Law.

Michigan State University College of Law is a leading institution of legal education with a long history of creating practice-ready attorneys. As one of only a few private law schools affiliated with a major research university, MSU Law offers comprehensive interdisciplinary opportunities combined with a personalized legal education. After 100 years as a private and independent Law College, the affiliation with MSU has put the Law College on an upward trajectory of national and international reputation and reach. MSU Law professors are gifted teachers and distinguished scholars, its curriculum is rigorous and challenging, and its facility is equipped with the latest resources–all affirming MSU Law's commitment to educating 21st-century lawyers.


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