For the first time, a U.S. Supreme Court justice is offering some legal insight about the so-called Fairness Doctrine, suggesting the off-the-books policy could be declared unconstitutional if it’s revived and brought before the bench.
In written discussion on yesterday’s ruling cracking down on indecent language on television, Justice Clarence Thomas called the policy “problematic” and a “deep intrusion into the First Amendment rights of broadcasters.”
The doctrine requiring broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints on controversial issues was brought to an end in the 1980s under the direction of President Ronald Reagan’s Federal Communications Commission.
There has been widespread fear, though, the policy could be resurrected during the term of President Barack Obama.
The Pacific Justice Institute, a California-based legal group specializing in the defense of religious freedom and other civil liberties, is calling the remarks by Thomas “very significant.”
“To my knowledge, this is the first time a sitting Supreme Court justice has weighed in on this issue,” Matt McReynolds, a PJI staff attorney, told WND.
“It could potentially take a lot of steam out of the movement from those who want to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. It also provides a lot of ammo to those who have been saying it’s unconstitutional. Now we have some validation from a member of the court.”
Thomas is questioning the viability of Supreme Court precedents dating back to the 1960s, long before the explosion of media sources beyond radio airwaves.
“The text of the First Amendment makes no distinctions among print, broadcast, and cable media, but we have done so,” Thomas noted.
“It is certainly true that broadcast frequencies are scarce but it is unclear why that fact justifies content regulation of broadcasting in a way that would be intolerable if applied to the editorial process of the print media.”
He also noticed “the number of over-the-air broadcast stations grew from 7,411 in 1969 … to 15,273 by the end of 2004.”
If Congress and the president bring the doctrine back to life, there is no doubt lawsuits will fly.
“We are prepared to take legal action should it be reinstated,” said Brad Dacus, president of PJI. “Justice Thomas’ opinion is very encouraging to everyone who believes in free speech and government non-interference with public debate.”
Meanwhile, as WND is also reporting today, the leader of a newly formed public awareness campaign to alert U.S. citizens about an effort to stifle free speech says he expects local “boards” will be assembled within 90 days to begin censoring talk radio, a move that will come as an “Arctic blast” against the expression of opinion in the United States.
“I think the FCC is on the cusp of enacting regulations that would fundamentally alter the traditional American assumption that we have the right to share and debate political opinions,” said talk-show host Roger Hedgecock, whose new initiative is called “Don’t Touch My Dial.”
“The assault on the First Amendment that is being planned by the government and the extremist Left is not limited to their desire to silence conservative talk radio,” Hedgecock said.
“Newspapers and television are not immune to the anti-First Amendment efforts that are at work here. In addition, the Internet is also a target for receiving the restrictive aspects of the so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine.’”