Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, 497 U.S. 547 (1990)

Facts of the Case:
This case challenged the constitutionality of two minority preference policies of the Federal Communications Commission. Under the first policy challenged by Metro Broadcasting, Inc., minority applicants for broadcast licenses were given preference if all other relevant factors were roughly equal. The second policy, known as the "distress sale," was challenged by Shurberg Broadcasting of Hartford Inc. This policy allowed broadcasters in danger of losing their licenses to sell their stations to minority buyers before the FCC formally ruled on the viability of the troubled stations. This case was decided together with Astroline Communications Co. v. Shurberg Broadcasting, in which Faith Center Inc. made a "distress sale" of its television license to a minority outfit owned by Astroline. Shurberg, a non-minority applicant for a similar license, challenged the FCC's approval of Faith Center's sale to Astroline.

Did the FCC's minority preference policies violate the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment?

No. The Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, held that the FCC's minority preference policies were constitutional because they provided appropriate remedies for discrimination victims and were aimed at the advancement of legitimate congressional objectives for program diversity. The FCC's minority preference policies were closely related to, and substantially advanced, Congress's legitimate interest in affording the public a diverse array of programming options. The availability of program diversity serves the entire viewing and listening public, not just minorities, and is therefore consistent with First Amendment values. Finally, the Court noted that the FCC's minority preference policy did not unduly burden nonminorities. The FCC did not predetermine the number of distress sales, and could only invoke them in a small number of cases, when no competing bids were filed and the licensee elected to sell at a lower price rather than risk an FCC investigation (see also Adarand Constructors v. Pena).


Decision: 5 votes for FCC, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Equal Protection

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