Judicial Review of Administrative Decisions

This final example will briefly focus on administrative law, more specifically on an agency decision. The agency at hand is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). FCC, upon a complaint from a father that his son heard an offensive monologue broadcast by a radio station, held an administrative hearing deciding whether the radio station violated 18 U.S.C. § 1464, and if so whether the violation would warrant a revocation of the station’s broadcasting license.Under the statutory provision, the FCC had the authority to revoke licenses. The offensive monologue was the now famous “Filthy Words,” delivered by the late George Carlin.

Upon hearing all the evidence, it decided in its memorandum opinion that the “Filthy Words” monologue by comedian George Carlin contained words that depicted sexual and excretory activities. Therefore, it condemned it as indecent, according to an applicable statutory provision.

Arguably, the FCC decision can be described as illegal censorship, and the federal court of appeal that reviewed it reversed it on those very grounds. However, the United States Supreme Court did not find that liberal decision to its liking and granted the writ of certiorari to review the circuit court’s decision.

The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s decision and upheld the FCC’s ban. In its decision, abbreviated as //FCC v.// //Pacifica Foundation,//438 U.S. 726 (1978), the United States Supreme Court held that:

The FCC was warranted in concluding that indecent language within the meaning of Sect. 1464 was used in the challenged broadcast. The words “obscene, indecent, or profane” are in the disjunctive, implying that each has a separate meaning. Though prurient appeal is an element of “obscene, “ it is not an element of “indecent, “which merely refers to nonconformance with accepted standards of morality. 438 U.S. at 727 (emphasis added)
The Court let us see its reasoning: it upholds administrative decisions that do not offend the core American values, and it will reverse the ones that violate them. Those values are rooted in morality, justice, and liberal individualism. It is the role of the rule of law to preserve a legal system that promotes those values, and it is not the role of the rule of law to advance a perfect legal system

For a researcher, the conclusion is that when it comes to administrative law, the correct and comprehensive answer has to cover both the enabling statute, the administrative law (rule or hearing), and the upholding piece of court-made law (case).