Pacifica Decision Author To Leave Supreme Court

President Barack Obama will get a second Supreme Court appointment with the announcement Friday that Justice John Paul Stevens is retiring.

Stevens, who has led the liberal wing of the court, is a familiar name to broadcast content regulation followers.

He wrote the opinion in the 1978 Pacifica case narrowly upholding the FCC's indecency regulation powers. "

That was the decision that established the "uniquely pervasive" and "uniquely accessible to children" arguments the FCC has continued to site in its crackdown on fleeting indecency and profanity and in opening an inquiry into whether it should change its regulations on children's TV in the wake of the digital transition.

But the decision also provides some ammunition to opponents of the FCC's fleeting expletives policy. The decision emphasized the narrowness of the holding, and suggested that even the broadcast of a scripted epithet was not necessarily actionable, much less one that was live and unexpected. "We have not decided that an occasional expletive in either setting would justify any sanction..."

Stevens, 89, had indicated earlier this month he might exit the court after more than three decades.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.