We've been covering the various court fights over the right of the FCC to fine TV networks over indecency
-- including "fleeting" expletives and nudity. The Supreme Court heard the latest case last week (we got behind on coverage due to CES), and it certainly sounds like the Supreme Court Justices are perfectly happy with censoring the public airwaves
. Reading the quotes from the transcript, it's really quite ridiculous. The Justices seem to spend a lot more time prudishly discussing what they think is appropriate, rather than the actual legal issues. Take, for example, Justice Antonin Scalia -- the supposed constructionalist who goes by the word of the Constitution:
"Sign me up as supporting Justice Kennedy's notion that this has a symbolic value, just as we require a certain modicum of dress for the people that attend this Court and the people that attend other Federal courts. It's a symbolic matter...These are public airwaves, the government is entitled to insist upon a certain modicum of decency. I'm not sure it even has to relate to juveniles, to tell you the truth."
I'm curious where in the First Amendment it says that Congress shall make no law... except wherein it involves requiring a modicum of decency. But the best part of the hearing came when, after the Justices got worked up about the idea of nudity on TV, one of the lawyers, Seth Waxman wondered about all the nudity right in the Supreme Court itself
He said government often fails when it gets into the business of trying to understand context, as it purportedly did when it fined ABC for showing fleeting nudity on NYPD Blue.
"Right now, the commission has pending before it... complaints about the opening episode of the last Olympics, which included a statue very much like some of the statues that are here in this courtroom, that had bare breasts and buttocks," he told the Supreme Court.
Waxman then pointed around the room. "There's a bare buttock there and there's a bare buttock here."
As the crowd snickered, Scalia admitted that he hadn't noticed it before now.
Elsewhere, Justices seemed to think that, without the threat of indecency fines, the networks would be full of swearing and nudity. Of course, that's ridiculous. The networks would respond to what people actually wanted, and plenty of cable networks (not subject to such FCC rules) do not have nudity and swearing, because they know it's not appropriate for their audience. We'll see how the court eventually rules, but the questioning certainly did not bode well.