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SCOTUS rules on FCC case, still no health care decision

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The highly anticipated decision by the United States Supreme Court on health care will come another day. The justices released four opinions Thursday, which did not include the challenges to the health care law. They did decide the case before them involving the Federal Communications Commission.

The justices were asked to rule on whether the FCC’s standards for indecency on television are too vague to be constitutional. The justices sidestepped the constitutionality issue by deciding the case under the Due Process Clause. They also did not reconsider their decision in FCC. v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726.

The FCC opinion was the last one issued Thursday morning by the SCOTUS. In Federal Communications Commission, et al. v. Fox Television Stations Inc., et al., 10-1293, the majority held that because the Federal Communications Commission didn’t give Fox or ABC fair notice before the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent, the FCC’s standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague.

Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court to which all justices but Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor joined. Ginsburg filed a concurring opinion and Sotomayor didn’t take part in the consideration or decision of the case.

The high court handed down three other decisions Thursday.

In a 6-3 decision authored by Sotomayor, Southern Union Co. v. United States, 11-94, the majority held that the rule of Apprendi v. New Jersey applies to the imposition of criminal fines. The Constitution requires that a jury, instead of a judge, must find beyond a reasonable doubt any fact that leads to a higher fine for a criminal defendant. The case came to the court from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Atonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan and Ginsburg joined Sotomayor’s opinion. Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, to which Kennedy and Samuel Alito joined.

In a 7-2 decision authored by Alito, the SCOTUS in Knox, et al. v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, 10-1121, reversed the 9th Circuit. The high court ruled that under the First Amendment, when a union imposes a special assessment or dues increase to meet expenses that were not disclosed when the regular assessment was set, the union must provide a new notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.

Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas joined Alito’s opinion. Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion, in which Ginsburg joined. Breyer dissented, in which Kagan joined.

The justices issued their consolidated decision in Dorsey v. United States, 11-5683, and Hill v. United States, 11-5271, both from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 5-4 ruling holds that the Fair Sentencing Act’s new, lower mandatory minimums apply to the post-act sentencing of pre-act crack cocaine offenders. Breyer authored the opinion in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan joined. Scalia filed a dissent, to which Roberts, Thomas and Alito joined. 

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