WASHINGTON, June 21, 2012 ( – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is free to enforce its indecency law, although the two networks suing the FCC won in their specific complaints of unfair punishment, the Supreme Court ruled today.

In FCC v. Fox, plaintiffs had argued that the federal commission had not given fair notice of the rules under which networks were punished for instances of visual and verbal profanity broadcast in 2002-03. In a unanimous ruling, the high court agreed, although it did not address the networks’ broader claim that the rules themselves were a violation of First Amendment principles.

“A fundamental principle in our legal system is that laws which regulate persons or entities must give fair notice of conduct that is forbidden or required,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the opinion, which stated there was no need to review the rule’s constitutionality.

Following the ruling in the 1978 case FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, the FCC had noted it would distinguish between repetitive and isolated occurrences of profane speech. When the FCC sanctioned for the three incidents involved in Thursday’s case, the FCC changed its application of indecency to include isolated violations.

The justices also vacated a U.S. appeals court decision that had deemed the FCC indecency law unconstitutional, and remanded the case back to that court, and gave federal officials the option of reviewing the policy.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday that the agency is reviewing the Supreme Court decision. “Consistent with vital First Amendment principles, the FCC will carry out Congress’s directive to protect young TV viewers,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell said the agency would swiftly begin addressing a pile of nearly 1.5 million pending complaints that had accumulated since 2003, a task that had been put on hold by the lawsuit.

Conservative watchdogs expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“The real import of today’s ruling is that the FCC is free to enforce indecency law,” said Morality in Media president Patrick Trueman in a statement Thursday.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said that, “When a similar case goes before the Supreme Court again for fines imposed for any future violations, we expect the Court to once again decide that fleeting expletives and brief nudity are not protected under the First Amendment.”

“The public airways are just that – public,” said Perkins. “The networks using them have a moral duty to the American public to responsibly provide content that is acceptable for all viewers. This is not a heavy burden for those whose television and radio licenses provide them with substantial profits.”