High court won’t hear challenge to ‘must-carry’ rules for satellite TV

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear appeals in two First Amendment cases.

In one case, Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association v. Federal Communications Commission, the court refused to consider letting satellite companies choose which local stations to air. The companies had argued they had a free-speech right to broadcast what they want.

The justices’ action means satellite companies have to follow the same “must-carry” rules imposed on cable systems. The high court ruled 5-4 in 1997 that cable TV systems could be forced to carry local stations.

The rule protects small, independent broadcasters and keeps companies from dropping the less popular ones and adding new channels.

Under the FCC rules, satellite companies must run all local stations if they choose to carry one. The companies still can opt not to use any.

The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association argued that satellite companies are different.

“There is no evidence whatever supporting the proposition that carry-one, carry-all will preserve even a single broadcast station that otherwise would go dark,” attorney Charles J. Cooper, representing the satellite companies, told the court.

Most Americans have either cable or satellite television service, and the Bush administration said the rules should be comparable for both.

If satellite companies were allowed to pick the most popular among local stations, their customers would need a separate antenna to be able to pick up some local stations, the administration told the court.

The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with the government. The appeals court panel said the rule was a “reasonable, content-neutral restriction on satellite carriers’ speech.”

Meanwhile, in the other case, the high court refused to hear Detroit’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found the city acted improperly when it preferentially granted casino licenses in 1997.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that Detroit’s ordinance regarding the casino-selection process violated the First Amendment. The judges said the process improperly endorsed certain political activity because it gave preference to two casinos that had supported a campaign to make casinos legal in the city.

“The issue now is settled. What the city did was illegal,” said Conly Schulte, lawyer for the American Indian tribe that filed the lawsuit.

But Morley Witus, an attorney representing Detroit, said that Supreme Court didn’t rule on the constitutionality issue. “They just said that they don’t want to take the case right now.”

The Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians has asked Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell to reopen the bidding process for Detroit’s three casino licenses.

Both sides are awaiting the judge’s written opinion on whether the bidding process for licenses will be reopened.

Bell ruled Feb. 7 that the process used in 1997 was unconstitutional because it gave preference to Greektown Casino LLC and Atwater Entertainment Associates LLC, which are operating casinos. Detroit’s third casino is MGM Grand Detroit Casino, owned by Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage.

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