On the day after the Supreme Court’s historic health care ruling, the court settled the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake flashing incident at the Super Bowl, with Chief Justice John Roberts chiding the performers.
The incident was seen by 90 million Americans for 9/16 of a second, but it was on live television and on a broadcast widely watched by families.
The CBS television network was on the hook for a $550,000 indecency fine from the Federal Communications Commission, after Jackson exposed a breast during the halftime show in 2004.
CBS won in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. When the Supreme Court declined on Friday to hear an appeal, it effectively ended the “wardrobe malfunction” case.
Constitution Daily contributor Lyle Denniston, writing on SCOTUSblog, said sharp-eyed Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t buy the whole “malfunction” story and believed it was planned by Jackson and Timberlake.
In fact, Roberts said Jackson and Timberlake “strained the credulity of the public by terming the episode a ‘wardrobe malfunction.’”
The court didn’t dispute the FCC’s power to punish broadcasters for showing nudity. The ruling on Friday was specific to the Jackson incident.
Denniston points out that Friday’s ruling in the CBS case, and last week’s rulings in favor of Fox (an issue with a nudity scene from "NYPD Blue") and ABC (an issue with foul language by Cher and Nicole Richie), weren’t First Amendment cases, and the court hasn’t ruled on bigger issues involving the television industry.
Two contentious issues are the fight over the FCC’s power to regulate indecency and the cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in the same markets.
Broadcasters argue that current technology and the competitive marketplace have changed the nature of the two rulings.
"We're disappointed the Supreme Court declined to review rules that limit local broadcasters' ability to compete with our national and multinational pay programming competitors," National Association of Broadcasters' Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said in a statement. "NAB will continue to advocate for modernizing ownership rules that stem from an era of 'I Love Lucy.'"
And so, as this historic Supreme Court term ends, the Roberts Court has given us not only rulings on health care, immigration, and campaign financing, but also cases starring Jackson, Timberlake, Cher, and Nicole Richie.
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