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Supreme Court Rules Against Chase "F-----g" Utley

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Well, not really.  And again, not really.  But sort of.  Let me explain.

Last week, the Supreme Court decided the case of FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. The case arose as a result of Bono's appearance on the 2003 Golden Globe Awards.  After Bono received his award, NBC failed to hit the bleep button when Bono proclaimed "this is really, really, fucking brilliant. Really, really, great."

The FCC's delicate ears could have none of that, so it changed its policies to make clear that any "fleeting expletive" aired by a broadcaster was a violation of decency standards and could be the basis for a fine.  Several broadcasters were subsequently fined for airing such fleeting expletives; in response, they challenged the policy.  I provided more detail on the facts in this case when I wrote about it last fall here.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in the case and found in the FCC's favor.  For those who are interested, you can read the opinion at the first link above or read a summary here.  The super-short recap of the decision is that the Supreme Court found, in a 5-4 decision, that the FCC had a sufficient reason to ban fleeting expletives and was not "aribtrary and capricious" in doing so.

Chase Utley enters the picture because of his eloquent speech at the Phillies' victory  party.  Caught live by most local broadcasters, Chase proclaimed that the Phillies were the "World Champions . . . World Fucking Champions."  Certainly, that is a fleeting expletive.  Any broadcaster that aired Chase's speech would be subject to being fined by the FCC.  And, after the decision last week, that fine would be pursuant to a Supreme Court-approved FCC regulation.

However, now for the qualifiers.  First, I know of no FCC fine against any broadcaster for airing Chase's colorful language.  Second, and this is the big one, the Supreme Court did not address the First Amendment issue lurking in the shadows -- whether a broadcaster has a First Amendment right to air such fleeting expletives.  Instead, the lower courts are going to have to address that issue first and then, inevitably, the case will wind up back in the Supreme Court.

Until then, the Supreme Court has sided with the FCC and against Chase Utley (or, to be more technical about it, any broadcaster who aired Chase's victory proclamation).