• Supreme Court Makes World Safe for Brief TV Nudity, for Now

    Despite speculation that the Supreme Court would rule on the fate of the Affordable Care Act this morning, the justices again chose to punt on the issue until next week. Either way, it's bad news for supporters of the law: If all death panels work as slowly as the Supreme Court, we'll never be able to kill anything.

    But the Supreme Court did make a series of important rulings on union dues, the Fair Sentencing Act and the FCC's indecency fines against television broadcasters. The latter case made its way to the Court after a 2nd Circuit ruling in favor of the networks

    The Justice Department had filed an appeal, and helpfully provided the justices with a DVD of a 2003 episode of the now-canceled "NYPD Blue" on ABC in which a naked woman was shown. The content of that program is central to the current legal dispute. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are all parties in the case.

    A federal appeals court last year for a second time struck down the government policies, concluding they were vague and inconsistently applied. Pending sanctions against the broadcasters were dismissed.

    So if the whole "Fast and Furious" debacle doesn't provide enough political hay for House Republicans, they can always accuse Eric Holder of peddling softcore pornography.

    Unfortunately, while the Supreme Court has the power to scrub or allow "indecent" programming from our primetime airwaves, it can't compel the media to report its decisions accurately. Contrary to many headlines, the Court did not say that the FCC policy of applying sanctions for "fleeting expletives" and brief nudity constituted a violation of the First Amendment. Instead,  Justice Kennedy ruled that because the FCC failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcast that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity would be indecent, the Commission's standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague.

    In other words, the FCC can still issue fines for "indecency," as long as fair notice is given, which doesn't explain how the Jersey Shore is still on TV.

    Photo by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group/Getty Images

    Tags: ABC, FCC, Fox, Supreme Court, Television


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