613 F.3d 317 (2nd Cir. 2010), 06-1760-ag, Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission

Docket Nº:06-1760-ag, 06-2750-ag, 06-5358-ag.
Citation:613 F.3d 317
Opinion Judge:POOLER, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:FOX TELEVISION STATIONS, INC., CBS Broadcasting Inc., WLS Television, Inc., KTRK Television, Inc., KMBC Hearst-Argyle Television, Inc., ABC Inc., Petitioners, v. FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, United States of America, Respondents, NBC Universal, Inc., NBC Telemundo License Co., NBC Television Affiliates, FBC Television Affiliates Association,
Attorney:Carter Phillips, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC (R. Clark Wadlow, Jennifer Tatel, David S. Petron, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC; Ellen S. Agress, Maureen A. O'Connell, Fox Television Stations, Inc., New York, NY, on the brief), for petitioner Fox Television Stations, Inc. Miguel Estrada, ...
Judge Panel:LEVAL, POOLER, and HALL, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 13, 2010
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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613 F.3d 317 (2nd Cir. 2010)

FOX TELEVISION STATIONS, INC., CBS Broadcasting Inc., WLS Television, Inc., KTRK Television, Inc., KMBC Hearst-Argyle Television, Inc., ABC Inc., Petitioners,

v.

FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, United States of America, Respondents,

NBC Universal, Inc., NBC Telemundo License Co., NBC Television Affiliates, FBC Television Affiliates Association, CBS Television Network Affiliates, Center for the Creative Community, Inc., Doing Business as Center for Creative Voices in Media, Inc., ABC Television Affiliates Association, Intervenors.

Nos. 06-1760-ag, 06-2750-ag, 06-5358-ag.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

July 13, 2010

Argued: Jan. 13, 2010.

Page 318

Carter Phillips, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC (R. Clark Wadlow, Jennifer Tatel, David S. Petron, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC; Ellen S. Agress, Maureen A. O'Connell, Fox Television Stations, Inc., New York, NY, on the brief), for petitioner Fox Television Stations, Inc.

Miguel Estrada, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Washington, D.C., (Susan Weiner, NBC Universal, Inc., on the brief), for intervenors NBC Universal Inc. and NBC Telemundo License Co.

Jacob Lewis, Associate General Counsel, for Austin C. Schlick, General Counsel, Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C. (Joseph R. Palmore, Deputy General Counsel, Federal Communications Commission, Washington, DC; Tony West, Assistant Attorney General, Thomas M. Bondy, Anne Murphy, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, on the brief), for respondents.

Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald G. London, Amber L. Husbands, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Washington, DC; Jonathan H. Anschell, Susanna M. Lowy, CBS Broadcasting Inc., New York, NY, for petitioner CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Seth P. Waxman, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Washington, DC; John W. Zucker, ABC, Inc., New York, NY, for petitioners ABC, Inc., WLS Television, Inc., and KTRK Television, Inc.

Wade H. Hargrove, Mark J. Prak, David Kushner, Julia Ambrose, Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP, Raleigh, NC, for intervenor ABC Television Affiliates Association.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Parul P. Desai, Matthew Wood, Media Access Project, Washington, DC, for intervenors Center

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for Creative Voices and Future of Music Coalition.

Michael R. Patrick, Renzulli Law Firm, White Plains, NY; Robert M. O'Neil, J. Joshua Wheeler, Eisha Jain, The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, for amici curiae The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and The Media Institute.

Nancy Winkelman, Timothy K. Lewis, Carl A. Solano, Mark Fowler, Jerald Fritz, Henry Geller, Newton N. Minow, James H. Quello, Glen O. Robinson, Kenneth G. Robinson, Jr., Schnader Harrrison Segal & Lewis LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for amici curiae former FCC Commissioners and Officials.

Christopher Hansen, Benjamin Sahl, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, New York, NY, for amici curiae American Civil Liberties Union, New York Civil Liberties Union, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Directors Guild of America, First Amendment Project, Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media, National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, the National Coalition Against Censorship, National Federation of Community Broadcasters, PEN American Center, Screen Actors Guild, Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, Woodhull Freedom Foundation, Writers Guild of America, West, Writers Guild of America, East.

Steven H. Aden, Patrick A. Trueman, Alliance Defense Fund, Washington, DC; Joel B. Campbell, Law Offices of Richard J. Yrulegui, Fresno, CA, for amici curiae Focus on the Family and Family Research Council.

Robert W. Peters, Robin S. Whitehead, Morality in Media, Inc., New York, NY, for amicus curiae Morality in Media, Inc.

Robert R. Sparks, Jr., Christopher T. Craig, Sparks & Craig, LLP, McLean, VA, for amicus curiae Parents Television Council.

Thomas B. North, St. Ignace, MI, for amicus curiae Decency Enforcement Center for Television.

LEVAL, POOLER, and HALL, Circuit Judges.

POOLER, Circuit Judge:

This petition for review comes before us on remand from the Supreme Court. Previously we held, with Judge Leval dissenting, that the indecency policy of the Federal Communications Commission (" FCC" or " Commission" ) was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (" APA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). See Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. FCC, 489 F.3d 444, 462 (2d Cir.2007). The Supreme Court reversed, upholding the policy under the APA and remanding for consideration of petitioners' constitutional arguments. See FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., __ U.S. __, __, 129 S.Ct. 1800, 1819, 173 L.Ed.2d 738 (2009) (Scalia, J.). We now hold that the FCC's policy violates the First Amendment because it is unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here. Thus, we grant the petition for review and vacate the FCC's order and the indecency policy underlying it.1

BACKGROUND

Section 1464 of Title 18 of United States Code provides that " [w]hoever utters any

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obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both." In 1960, Congress authorized the FCC to impose civil forfeitures for violations of Section 1464. See 47 U.S.C. § 503(b)(1)(D). It was not until 1975, however, that the FCC first exercised its authority to regulate speech it deemed indecent but not obscene. The speech at issue was comedian George Carlin's " Filthy Words" monologue, a 12-minute string of expletives broadcast on the radio at 2:00 in the afternoon.

The FCC brought forfeiture proceedings against the Pacifica Foundation, the broadcaster that had aired the Carlin monologue. CITIZEN'S COMPLAINT AGAINST PACIFICA FOUND. STATION WBAI (FM), N.Y, N.Y., 56 F.C.C.2d 94 (1975). In finding that Pacifica had violated Section 1464, the Commission defined " indecent" speech as " language that describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities and organs, at times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience." Id. at ¶ 11. Pacifica petitioned for review to the D.C. Circuit, which declared the FCC's indecency regime invalid. See Pacifica Found. v. FCC, 556 F.2d 9 (D.C.Cir.1977). In finding the FCC's order both vague and overbroad, the court pointed out that the Commission's definition of indecent speech would prohibit " the uncensored broadcast of many of the great works of literature including Shakespearian plays and contemporary plays which have won critical acclaim, the works of renowned classical and contemporary poets and writers, and passages from the Bible. " Id. at 14. Such a result, the court concluded, amounted to unconstitutional censorship. Id. at 18.

In a plurality opinion authored by Justice Stevens, the Supreme Court reversed. See FCC v. Pacifica Found., 438 U.S. 726, 98 S.Ct. 3026, 57 L.Ed.2d 1073 (1978). The Court limited its review to the question of whether the FCC could impose a civil forfeiture for the Carlin monologue and declined to address Pacifica's argument that the regulation was overbroad and would chill protected speech. Id. at 734-35, 743 (" Invalidating any rule on the basis of its hypothetical application to situations not before the Court is ‘ strong medicine’ to be applied ‘ sparingly and only as a last resort.’ " (quoting Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601, 613, 93 S.Ct. 2908, 37 L.Ed.2d 830 (1973))). In limiting its review, the Court stressed the " specific factual context" of the Carlin monologue, id. at 742, 98 S.Ct. 3026, focusing in particular on Carlin's deliberate and repetitive use of expletives to describe sexual and excretory activities.

The Court then went on to hold that the FCC could, at least in the situation before it, restrict indecent speech in the broadcast context that did not meet the legal definition of obscenity. Id. at 744, 98 S.Ct. 3026 (concluding that " if the government has any such power [to restrict indecent speech], this was an appropriate occasion for its exercise" ). Resting on a nuisance rationale, the Court first noted that " of all forms of communication, it is broadcasting that has received the most limited First Amendment protection" because of its " uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of all Americans." Id. at 748, 98 S.Ct. 3026. Moreover, the nature of broadcast television-as opposed to printed materials-made it " uniquely accessible to children, even those too young to read." Id. at 749, 98 S.Ct. 3026. The Court, however, " emphasize[d] the narrowness of [its] holding." Id. at 750, 98 S.Ct. 3026. " [N]uisance may be merely a right thing in the wrong

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place,-like a pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard. We simply hold that when the Commission finds that a pig has entered the parlor, the exercise of its regulatory power does not depend on proof that the pig is obscene." Id. at 750-51, 98 S.Ct. 3026 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Justices Powell and Blackmun, who concurred in a separate opinion, also made clear that the FCC's regulatory authority was limited, stating that the Court's holding did not give the FCC " an unrestricted license to decide what speech, protected in other media, may be banned from the airwaves in order to protect unwilling adults from momentary exposure to it in their homes." Id. at 759-60, 98 S.Ct. 3026 (Powell, J., concurring). Nor,...

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