United States v. Storer Broadcasting Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Storer Broadcasting Company

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

ARGUED: Feb 28, 1956 / Feb 29, 1956
DECIDED: May 21, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Storer Broadcasting Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 29, 1956 in United States v. Storer Broadcasting Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1956 in United States v. Storer Broadcasting Company

Earl Warren:

Number 94, United States of America and Federal Communications Commission versus Storer Broadcasting Company.

Mr. Baker.

Warren Baker:

May it please the Court.

This case involves the validity of the Federal Commission -- Federal Communication Commission rules which placed a limit on the number of radio or television stations in which any one party may have an interest.

Normally, these are called the Multiple Ownership Rules.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided that the Communications Commission lack the power to adopt such rules because the hearing requirements of Section 309 (b) of the Communications Act prevented the adoption of any rule which would require the rejection without hearing of an application by a citizen for a lawful use of an available frequency.

Now, we sought certiorari in this Court because in our opinion, the principle of law annunciated below would prevent any meaningful utilization of the Commission's rule-making power even where Congress has specifically directed the Commission to deal with specific subjects.

In the first part of my argument, I shall attempt to demonstrate that this broad and newly formulated principle of law, which is found in the decision of the court below, is inconsistent with the Communications Act and not reconcilable with decisions of this Court and in fact the court below.

Secondly, I will attempt to demonstrate that contrary to the reasoning of the court below, the subject of limiting the Multiple Ownership of stations is an appropriate exercise of the rule-making powers of this agency and they are entirely consistent with the basic purposes and objectives of the Communications Act.

But before beginning my argument, however, I'd like to give a brief recital of the facts and the history of this case.

Multiple Ownership has always been of concern to the Federal Communications Commission.

Since its inception, it has dealt with the question of whether or not it was in the public interest for additional facilities to be made available to parties who already have one or more stations.

It handled AM or standard radio broadcasting for a long period of time on an ad hoc basis.

For a long period of time, I say, prior to the adoption of the present rules.

Nevertheless, it handled the question of Multiple Ownership of FM radio broadcasting stations by a rule since 1940 and television stations by a rule since 1941.

The original rule with respect to television permitted a maximum of three television stations.

Later, they were amended to five.

This was reaffirmed in the particular rule-making, although since that time, with respect to a certain kind of television station, it has been expanded to seven.

These rules, which are here before the Court, stem from a notice of proposed rule-making which was issued by the Federal Communications Commission in 1948.

This notice of proposed rule-making was to amend existing Multiple Ownership Rules.

It in -- contemplated the inclusion of standard radio broadcasting, AM, within the rules.

It considered the question of different treatment for minority interest and because of various counter proposals there was also, involved in the rule-making, questions as to making the number dependent upon area, geographic area of power or coverage.

There were also alternative proposals to raise the limit in FM from six to seven and in television from five to seven.

After receiving comments and hearing oral argument, the Commission issued a decision and order.

In substance, that decision brought for the first time standard radio broadcasting within the limits of the rule rather than on an ad hoc basis.

It raised the limit with respect to FM broadcasting from six to seven and it refused to adopt other alternatives among which were different limits for minority interest, different limits for area and power and the like.

And it also refused to raise the limit in television from five to seven, but it reserved one specific portion of that.

And that related to the question of making a different maximum where UHF television was concerned rather than VHF.

After an appeal in this case, the Commission actually raised the limit to seven providing a maximum of five VHF were permitted.

Therefore, it does not affect this case because when this decision and order was issued, Storer, the respondent here, was already the owner of five VHF television stations and was applying for a six VHF television station.