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Court too busy with Obamacare to talk dirty?

George Carlin

George Carlin (Credit: The TV Zone)

The U.S. Supreme Court justices must have spent a lot of time working on their opinions in the cases challenging the Affordable Care Act, because they didn’t seem to put much effort in today’s dirty words, fleeting nudity case. Five months after the court heard a broad challenge to the Federal Communications Commission’s ban on using “obscene, indecent or profane language,” the justices punted. For the second time.

The justices did void fines given Fox and other broadcasters for violating FCC rules on a technicality. It found that the broadcasters did not have enough warning that they would face punishment for one-time violations. In the past, the FCC allowed a few mistaken outbursts, but then it started to crack down about a decade ago. Yes, that’s how long these cases have been pending. So no foul for a 2003 NYPD Blue episode with a glimpse of a bare buttock, Cher’s f-bomb during the 2002 Billboard Music Awards show, or Bono’s f-bomb during the Golden Globes in 2003. (Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl was not part of this case — that one is still working its way through the lower courts.)

It did seem time for the court to take a fresh look at its discredited 1978 decision in Pacifica Radio's broadcast of the “Filthy Words” (there were seven of them) routine by the late comedian George Carlin. In that decision, an outlier from its its free speech jurisprudence, the justices said the words were truly indecent by “contemporary community standards.” The Pacifica case is linchpin allowing FCC scolds to monitor the airwaves for language and body parts.


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Writing for the 8-0 majority on Wednesday, however, Justice Anthony Kennedy brushed off the constitutional challenge, seemingly faster that it took Carlin to mouth off the seven words. Only Justice Ruth Ginsburg filed a separate note saying it was time to revisit Pacifica. Or, they may want to keep the requirement to use the bleep to delete an expletive until after they hand down their breathlessly awaited decision on Obamacare that is now expected early next week.

Tags: Supreme Court , Obamacare , Affordable Care Act , George Carlin , Pacifica , Bono , Cher , Janet Jackson , seven dirty words , FCC

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