Billboard Music Awards Profanity Case Headed to Supreme Court

By Courtney Thompson March 18, 2008, 1:14 PM EDT

In a decision that surprised many, the U.S. Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will hear arguments in the F.C.C.'s “fleeting expletive” case against Fox Broadcasting Company. The decision marks the first time the Supreme Court will hear a broadcast indecency case since 1978.

According to Variety, fleeting expletives are “single instances of certain profanities, uttered usually in live settings.” Back in March 2006, the F.C.C. ruled that Fox had violated the organization's decency rules twice in recent years, including a comment by Cher during the 2002 Billboard Music Awards and a comment by Nicole Ritchie during the 2003 awards.

Fox immediately appealed the F.C.C. violation, according to yesterday's AP story, “saying that the agency had changed its enforcement policy without warning and that the new ban was unconstitutional.” A federal appeals court agreed with Fox in a 2-1 vote, finding that the F.C.C. hadn't fully defined the “fleeting” standard.

F.C.C. chairman Kevin Martin told the AP he was pleased the Supreme Court was stepping in, saying the appeals court had “put the commission in an untenable position” by giving it the responsibility to enforce indecency rules but not the tools to take action.

Fox also responded to the announcement, according to Reuters, saying the network was pleased by the decision, “as this will give us the opportunity to demonstrate once again the arbitrary nature of the F.C.C.'s decision in this and similar cases. It will also give us the opportunity to argue that the F.C.C.'s expanded enforcement of the indecency law is unconstitutional in today's diverse media marketplace, where parents have access to a variety of tools to monitor their children's television viewing.”

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