High court hijinks: Supremes get creative in FCC indecency decision

Supremecourtseal Supreme Court decisions are usually thick and dense, with lots of big words and page after page devoted to citings of precedent.

But there are always a few quotable turns of phrase, a few zingers and bits of nastiness between the majority and the dissent in every decision that make them worth slogging through. Tuesday’s decision in the Fox vs. FCC indecency case — which turned on the question of whether broadcasters should be liable for the random F-bomb and other curse words that slip through on live broadcasts — is no exception.

(For a primer, read Variety‘s story on the ruling, and read Brian Lowry’s spot-on analysis of why the idea of the FCC policing the broadcast airwaves is wrong-headed and anachronistic. If you’re really game, read the decision yourself.)

There’s the cheap thrill of reading the Supremes parse the question of whether Nicole Richie and Cher were invoking “literal or nonliteral” uses of the words fuck, fucking and shit. Richie’s was definitely literal in her lament on the 2003 Billboard Music Awards telecast: “Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? Not so fucking simple.” Cher, on the other hand blurred the lines in the 2002 edition of the same kudocast: “So fuck ’em,” she said of critics who have long predicted her professional demise.

There’s also the purple prose that justices just can’t seem to resist, especially when writing about a Scalia media-related decision that will be widely read — and quoted — by the media. And then there’s the nyah-nyah-nyah my-opinion-is-better-than-yours justice-on-justice verbal violence. To wit:

From Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion:

“Cher’s statement was patently offensive in part because she metaphorically suggested a sexual act as a means of expressing hostility to her critics.” (Scalia pictured left)

From a footnote bashing the dissenting opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer:

“That strange and novel disposition would … be better termed the doctrine of judicial arm-twisting or appellate review by the wagged finger.”

Scalia says: Beware of future generations of swearing tykes:

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