Federal Communications Commission v. League of Women Voters of California

468 U.S. 364 (1984)

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Federal Communications Commission v. League of Women Voters of California

United States Supreme Court
468 U.S. 364 (1984)

Facts

In 1967, Congress adopted the Public Broadcasting Act (the act) to promote noncommercial, educational broadcasting stations. The act created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit organization governed by a bipartisan board of directors appointed by the president with the Senate’s consent. The act authorized the CPB to disburse federal funds to public radio and television broadcasting stations. There was concern that federal funding might be used to coerce stations into becoming propaganda machines for government interests. Consequently, in addition to creating the CPB as a private entity, rather than a government agency, the act also prohibited the CPB from owning any stations and imposed objective standards for fund disbursements. Further, the act prohibited any government agency or officer from exercising control over the CPB or any public radio or television broadcaster. As an additional measure, § 399 of the act prohibited public broadcasting stations receiving federal grants from engaging in editorializing, meaning that such stations could not present opinions on public issues, only facts. Pacifica Foundation (plaintiff), an organization owning multiple public broadcasting stations, sued the Federal Communications Commission (defendant), alleging that § 399 violated the First Amendment’s protection for free speech. The district held that the fear of government influence was not a sufficiently compelling government interest to justify the prohibition. The decision was appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Brennan, J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

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