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Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission Metro Broadcasting - Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action In Broadcasting

policies fcc programs congress

In the Supreme Court, Metro challenged the notion that FCC programs aimed at increasing minority ownership would further the national goal of promoting programming diversification. Writing for the Court, Justice Brennan declared that it did. In approving the FCC's policies:

Congress found that "the effects of past inequities stemming from racial and ethnic discrimination have resulted in a severe underrepresentation of minorities in the media of mass communications." . . . Congress and the Commission do not justify the minority ownership policies strictly as remedies for victims of this discrimination, however. Rather, Congress and the FCC have selected the minority ownership policies primarily to promote programming diversity, and they urge that such diversity is an important governmental objective that can serve as a constitutional basis for the preference policies. We agree.

The FCC adopted the programs at issue specifically in response to a federal law requiring it to promote diversification in programming. Then Congress approved the programs as a valid method of achieving what it considered an important national goal. Whereas in other situations the Court looked with disfavor on statutes that created suspect categories of individuals based on race, here it was prepared to waive the strict scrutiny test. This test required that government use the least disruptive method of advancing a compelling state interest. But in Metro Broadcasting, there was a substantial relationship between goals and methods, and that was enough to satisfy five members of the Court.

In an important earlier case concerning affirmative action, Fullilove v. Klutznick (1980), the majority gave great weight to the fact that the programs at issue in Metro Broadcasting originated with federal legislation. In 1989, the Court had applied strict scrutiny in Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co. to defeat a state affirmative action plan on equal protection grounds. A majority of the Croson Court distinguished its decision from the decision in Fullilove by granting the federal government greater latitude than state governments in enforcing the equal protection mandate of the Fourteenth Amendment. Metro Broadcasting, with its emphasis on change rather than compensation, marked a turning point in American social history. With this decision, the Court was, for the first time, giving the federal government more authority than the states had to fashion specific policies for addressing the inequities born of America's racist past.

[back] Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission Metro Broadcasting - Further Readings

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