War Over Words On the Bench

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not surprising for a case that involves indecency, the 5 to 4 decision in FCC v. Fox Television Stations was filled with assertions not normally heard at the Supreme Court.

"It was certainly reasonable to determine that it made no sense to distinguish between literal and nonliteral uses of offensive words, requiring repetitive use to render only the latter indecent. As the Commission said with regard to expletive use of the F-Word, 'the word's power to insult and offend derives from its sexual meaning.' "

-- Justice Antonin Scalia, for the majority.

"It is ironic, to say the least, that while the FCC patrols the airwaves for words that have a tenuous relationship with sex or excrement, commercials broadcast during prime-time hours frequently ask viewers whether they too are battling erectile dysfunction or are having trouble going to the bathroom."

-- Justice John Paul Stevens, in dissent.

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