October 29, 2008
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held its first-ever special sitting on October 29, 2008 at McGeorge and heard arguments on a violent video game case that holds national interest.
Three hundred law students, attorneys, faculty and members of the general public crowded into the newly renovated lecture hall. The proceedings were simulcast into the law school’s courtroom with another 100 viewers watching.
A three-judge panel led by Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski heard the state of California’s appeal of a trial court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional a state law that sought to restrict retail sales and rentals of violent video games to minors. Similar laws in other states have been shot down in other federal venues.
California Deputy Attorney General Zackery Morazzini, a 1999 J.D. and 2002 LLM graduate of McGeorge, argued the case for the appellant. He and Video Software Dealers Association and Entertainment Software Association attorney Paul M. Smith were bombarded by questions from the judges.
“Are you asking this court to go where no court has gone before?” Judge Connie Callahan, ’75, queried Morazzini. “Is there anything out of limits for the Legislature to prohibit to mirrors? What about games where people eat unhealthy foods and get fat?” chimed in Kozinski. Judge Sidney Thomas pressed the young deputy AG with a hypothetical about whether the Homer’s “The Iliad” should be censored for violence were it made into a video game.
The judges were equally tough on the video makers lawyer, questioning why putting a label on games would be such an inconvenience for them and likening a video rating system to the movie industry’s regimen.
The court also heard another state appeal of a ruling against it. This one involves a lifer inmate who won a jury verdict in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, which said his constitutional right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment was violated when he was deprived of outdoor exercise during four extended lockdowns at Folsom Prison.
Erin Haney, a law student at the UC Davis School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic, argued on behalf of the inmate while Deputy Attorney General James Flynn argued for the state. The appeals court will announce rulings on both appeals in the next few months.
Judges Callahan, Kozinski and Thomas answered numerous questions about court procedure for the audience after oral arguments. Callahan and Thomas spoke to students in two classes later in the day.