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Lawyer makes startling argument in Supreme Court hearing on FCC

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That’s when Waxman turned his gaze upward to point out similar outrages right there in the courtroom.

Earlier, the current solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, argued on behalf of the Obama administration that the court should uphold the FCC’s tougher enforcement effort.

He conceded that the FCC’s new rule lacked “perfect clarity.” But short of banning certain words in all contexts, some amount of leeway was necessary to achieve a balanced approach acknowledging free speech requirements, he said.

The FCC "is trying to make reasonable accommodations for First Amendment values,” Mr. Verrilli said.

FCC gets tough

Broadcasting has been regulated in the US since the 1920s. In 1978, the Supreme Court upheld the power of the FCC to ban broadcasts that it deemed “indecent.” But over the next 25 years, the agency only rarely attempted to enforce those provisions.

Broadcasters were on notice that the government was watching, but the FCC’s approach was more permissive and forgiving than punitive.

That changed in 2004, when the FCC began to counter what it viewed as an increasingly permissive and toxic media environment with the growth of cable and satellite television services and free-ranging content on the Internet.

In a direct assault on the FCC effort, broadcast companies are now asking the Supreme Court to overrule its 1978 decision and, in effect, deregulate broadcast television and radio.

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