The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday morning in favor of broadcasters ABC, FOX, CBS, and NBC in FCC v. FOX.
The decision states, “The Commission failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent, the Commission’s standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague.”
While many media outlets have reported, or at least implied, the decision means the FCC can no longer regulate curse words and nudity on television, the court only applied the decision to this specific case, ruling that the FCC can no longer apply arbitrary penalties to broadcasters.
The court refused to address the broader constitutional implications of the case. “We adhere to the principle of deciding constitutional questions only in the context of the particular case before the Court,” said the ruling.
A statement from the office of the Chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, explains, “We are reviewing today’s decision, which appears to be narrowly limited to procedural issues related to actions taken a number of years ago. Consistent with vital First Amendment principles, the FCC will carry out Congress’s directive to protect young TV viewers.”
Many court observers expected decisions to be handed down Thursday on President Barack Obama’s health care reform law and Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law, as the Supreme Court session is coming to a close, but neither decision was handed down. The court will likely release decisions on the two cases in the next two weeks.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not participate because she ruled in a similar case during her tenure on a lower court.