Federal Communications Commission v. League of Women Voters of California

PETITIONER: League of Women Voters of California
RESPONDENT: Federal Communications Commission
LOCATION: Grove City College

DOCKET NO.: 82-912
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 468 US 364 (1984)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1984
DECIDED: Jul 02, 1984

ADVOCATES:
Samuel A. Alito, Jr. - on behalf of appellant -- resumed
Frederic D. Woocher - Argued the cause for the appellees
Fredric D. Woocher - for appellees

Facts of the case

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 allocated federal funds to noncommercial television and radio stations to support operations and educational programming. The act did not allow stations receiving money under the act to "engage in editorializing."

Question

Did the ban on editorializing violate the First Amendment?

Media for Federal Communications Commission v. League of Women Voters of California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1984 in Federal Communications Commission v. League of Women Voters of California

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Federal Communications Commission against League of Women Voters of California.

Mr. Alito, I think you may proceed when you are ready.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case concerns the constitutionality of 47 U.S.C. Section 399 which prohibits editorializing by those public television and radio stations that receive federal subsidies from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

This case is a direct appeal from a decision by the United States District Court for the Central District of California which invalidated Section 399.

Appellees have raised a question about this Court's jurisdiction over the case, and the Court has postponed further consideration of the jurisdictional issue to the hearing on the merits.

We have fully briefed the jurisdictional issue, and therefore, unless the Court has some questions on that matter, I will move directly to the merits of the case.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

I do have a question, actually, Counsel.

Did you cite the Griggs decision of last term in connection with this, interpreting Rule 4(a)(4)?

Yes.

That, of course, is one of the principal bases upon which Appellees rely.

But of course, the appellate rules do not govern appeals to this Court, and there is a provision in 4(a)(4) which is noticeably absent from this Court's rules, and that provision says that a notice of appeal filed while certain post-trial motions are pending is a nullity.

There is no such provision in this Court's rules.

As I understand it, the rule prior to the 1980 amendment of the appellate rules which added that provision was that a notice of appeal filed under those circumstances would be valid, and therefore, I would believe that the absence of such a rule in this Court's rules means that our notice of appeal here is valid.

I would also point out that I think there is a question whether Rule 4(a)(4) applies to interlocutory appeals, even to the courts of appeals.

But in any event, as I said, that rule does not apply to appeals to this Court.

Harry A. Blackmun:

But certainly the Griggs result creates a trap for the unwary, doesn't it?

It creates a trap for the unwary, and when there is no provision in the governing rules pointing that trap out, it is all the more dangerous and unfair.

There is nothing in this Court's rules that say that a notice of appeal filed while a motion for reconsideration is pending is a nullity, and I think that to reach that result in this case would frustrate the intent of Section 1252 under which we appealed, which of course is to allow a speedy and authoritative disposition of questions involving the constitutionality of acts of Congress.

If that had to wait while a collateral matter like attorneys' fees was decided, I think Congress' intent would be frustrated.

For example, here nearly a year went by while the attorneys' fees question was being decided by the District Court.

Moving to the merits of the case, Section 399 has two separate provisions.

The first provision which is directly attacked here today of course provides, as I said, that stations receiving federal funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting may not engage in editorializing.

In fact, every public television station at last count, and virtually every full service public radio station receives such funds.

The term editorializing has been authoritatively construed by the FCC, consistent with the legislative history, to mean only the official endorsement of views by station management, and therefore, Section 399 does not prohibit the discussion of any topic or the expression of any viewpoint.

Station employees, journalists, commentators, public officials and everybody else can express their views on any subject.

The only thing that cannot be said is this editorial represents the position of station management, or something to that effect.

And of course, a station can say even that if only it is willing to give up federal funds.

If these funds are as insubstantial as Appellees and the district court suggest, then that should not represent a major sacrifice.

There is a second provision of 399 that is not directly challenged here today, but we believe it is nevertheless very much at issue, and that provision prohibits public stations from supporting or opposing candidates for office.