Affirmative Action by FCC Approved by High Court

From Times Staff and Wires

The Supreme Court, in a surprising finale to its term, ruled today that the federal government can give preference to minorities in awarding public benefits, including radio and television licenses.

The 5-4 vote in the closely watched case was a major boost for affirmative action from a conservative Supreme Court.

The justices said the Federal Communications Commission policies do not discriminate unlawfully against whites.

The court did not address the issue of women’s rights, but FCC affirmative action policies treat women and minorities almost identically.


In a case from Florida, the court allowed the commission to give special, favorable consideration to minorities in awarding a television station license.

In a case from Connecticut, the court upheld the commission’s so-called distress-sale policy, which allows a broadcaster faced with the loss of its license to sell to a minority-owned business at 75% of market value.

Today’s ruling came in a consolidation of the two cases.

Throughout the history of the case, the FCC has argued that women’s rights were at issue. But in a footnote in his 50-page majority opinion, Justice William J. Brennan said the court did not address gender preferences.

The footnote, referring to a broad FCC policy statement, said, “The FCC also announced in its 1978 statement a tax certificate policy and other minority preferences . . . which are not at issue today. Similarly, the commission’s gender preference policy . . . is not before us today.”

Legal experts said they are confident the ruling also will permit the FCC to continue its policy of giving preferential treatment to women seeking broadcast licenses, even though the court did not specifically address that issue.

In another important case today, the court ruled that people charged with child abuse are not always entitled to a face-to-face confrontation with their young accusers.

(Constitution’s) confrontation clause does not prohibit use of a procedure” other than a face-to-face confrontation.