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Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation

Obscene Or Offensive Speech, Filthy Words, Patently Offensive Language Hits The Fan, Legal Proceedings


Federal Communications Commission


Pacifica Foundation, et al.

Petitioner's Claim

That "patently offensive," although not necessarily obscene, speech should be subject to federal regulation.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Joseph A. Marino

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

Harry M. Plotkin

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens (writing for the Court)

Justices Dissenting

William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Byron R. White


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

3 July 1978


Upheld the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), overturning a court of appeals ruling that speech can only be regulated when it is obscene or has "prurient appeal."


This ruling established the authority of the FCC to regulate the broadcast of "indecent" material, restricting such broadcasts to hours of the day when children would be unlikely to be in the audience. In its decision the Court also defined broadcast obscenity as "language that describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs."

Related Cases

  • Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).
  • Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission, 395 U.S. 367 (1969).
  • Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973).
  • New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747 (1982).


Hindman, Elizabeth B. Rights vs. Responsibilities: The Supreme Court and the Media. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.


Daniel, Clifton, ed. Chronicle of the Twentieth Century. Mt. Kisko, NY: Chronicle, 1987.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980