Today was Big Decision Day at the Supreme Court, and though we'll have to wait until next week for the long-awaited healthcare decision, the justices threw us a bone by finding the Federal Communications Commission's indecency standards unconstitutionally vague [pdf]. Get ready for some hardcore broadcast teevee fuckin'!
Not really. The Court found that three FCC sanctions against Fox and ABC—one for Cher saying "fuck" at the 2002 Billboard Awards on Fox, one for Nicole Richie saying "fuck" and "shit" on the same broadcast a year later, and one for some brief sideboob and ass shots on ABC's NYPD Blue in 2003—were unconstitutional because the commission "failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice" that the occasional bad word or ass shot would draw indecency action. Bad words and boobies have always been considered indecent by the FCC, of course, but its policy regarding so-called "fleeting expletives" at live events or brief incidental nudity has been slippery enough, the Court found, that ABC and Fox couldn't reasonably expect to be fined for them.
What the ruling doesn't do is determine whether networks have a First Amendment right to broadcast live events without getting fined for an unplanned "fuck" so long as the FCC clearly lays out the rules. The decision explicitly doesn't go there, and even notes that the Court has found in the past that a policy barring fleeting expletives is reasonable. It's more about the FCC's failure to establish the rules of the road than about the constitutionality of the rules themselves.
The most amazing thing about the opinion is that it relates to things that occurred a decade ago. Ten years of litigation because Cher said a boo-boo? Nicole Richie! Remember Nicole Richie? The Court doesn't: In recounting the offending behavior, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes that "the singer Cher exclaimed during an unscripted speech...'So f*** 'em.' [In the 2003 incident], a person named Nicole Richie [said] 'have you ever tried to get cow sh*t out of a Prada purse?" Burn.
[Image via Getty]