Legal Principle at Issue
Whether the government may constitutionally require cable television system operators to carry local broadcast stations.
Vacated and remanded. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.
Congress in 1992 passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act, which required, among other things, that cable television systems carry local broadcast stations. Several cable operators filed suit, claiming that the legislation violated the freedoms of speech and of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment. The district court held that the "must-carry" provisions of the Act were constitutional.
The extent to which the government can regulate speech often depends upon whether the regulation is content-based or content-neutral. Content based restrictions must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest, while content-neutral regulations need only reasonably advance a substantial state interest. Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U.S. 288 (1984).
Importance of Case
The Court set forth a standard by which to evaluate the constitutionality of the additional cable television regulation that inevitably will follow. The slim majority, however, may indicate that a different standard might be adopted in a subsequent case. The Court held that the "must-carry" provisions constituted a "content-neutral" regulation that could be constitutional if it were shown that the regulation furthered an important governmental interest and did not unnecessarily restrict the freedom of speech. The Court found that Congress' distinction between cable operators and broadcasters was based upon the manner in which the speakers transmitted their message and not upon the messages themselves. The Court remanded the case to the district court for proceedings to determine whether the government could make the required showings.