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FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc.

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 21, 2012
Case #: 10-1293
Kennedy J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.J., Scallia, Thomas, Breyer, Alito and Kagan, JJ., joined. Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in the judgement. Sotomayor, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1293f3e5.pdf

Constitutional Law: The FCC violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment when it applied sanctions to broadcasters without providing them with fair notice of the Commission's policy shift regarding indecency.

Following the Court’s decision in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, the FCC distinguished between repetition of indecent words and "isolated or occasional expletives." However, in 2003 the FCC changed its stance on "fleeting expletives" and stated that repetition or lack thereof will not dictate whether "material that is patently offensive" is a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1464.

In 2002 and 2003, the FCC reviewed two live awards shows in which persons uttered expletives, and an episode of NYPD Blue that featured partial nudity and found that each broadcast was indecent in violation of § 1464.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the forfeiture as an unconstitutional violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because it failed to give broadcasters "sufficient notice" on what would and would not be found indecent.

The Court affirmed and vacated the forfeitures because the FCC's standard was vague and there was not sufficient notice given of the policy shift. The Court did not rule on the First Amendment claim nor did it find it necessary to reconsider the Pacifica decision.