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Court Briefs

Plaintiffs - Appellants,
Defendants - Appellees

The case of American Amusement Machine v. Kendrick was a challenge to an Indianapolis ordinance that barred minors from video arcade games containing simulated "graphic violence." A trial judge upheld the ordinance, relying on social science research into the effects of "media violence." On appeal, the Free Expression Policy Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of eight noted scholars and authors in the field of media and communications, who explained to the judges that political discourse has for many years misrepresented and distorted the actual (and rather meager) results of social science research into the effects of violent images or ideas in media entertainment. The scholars argued that although the mass media undoubtedly have many different effects on different individuals, "in a field as inherently complex and multi-faceted as human aggression, it is questionable whether quantitative studies of media effects can really provide a holistic or adequately nuanced description of the process by which some individuals become more aggressive than others."

On March 23, 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the district court and struck down the Indianapolis ordinance. Judge Richard Posner wrote for the court that there was no evidence that exposure to the sometimes violent narratives in the video games targeted by the ordinance actually caused harmful behavior and, furthermore, that young people had First Amendment rights and were "unlikely to become well-functioning, independent-minded adults and responsible citizens if they are raised in an intellectual bubble." He added:

"Violence has always been and remains a central interest of humankind and a recurrent, even obsessive theme of culture both high and low. It engages the interest of children from an early age, as anyone familiar with the classic fairy tales collected by Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault are aware. 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."*

To read the brief, click here.


* American Amusement Machine Ass'n v. Kendrick, 244 F.3d 572, 577-79 (7th Cir. 2001).

The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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