General News

Court sides with radio stations

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May 22, 2001 | 1:41pm EDT

In a ruling that some legal analysts said was remarkable for its reluctance to define constitutional principles, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Monday in favor of two radio stations that were sued for broadcasting an illegally taped cell phone conversation between two Wilkes-Barre, Pa., teachers union officials who appeared to be plotting violent measures against the school district. The ruling affirmed an appellate court ruling that concluded: "Illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech [the radio stations'] about a matter of public concern." The judges made it clear, however, that they were ruling narrowly on the specific case at hand, with a concurring opinion by two justices inveighing against adopting "broad or rigid constitutional rules which would unnecessarily restrict legislative flexibility." The minority opinion held that the decision would result in "chilling the speech of the millions of Americans who rely on electronic technology to communicate." Some media lawyers had hoped that the court would clearly set forth the constitutional rule that speech by public officials about public matters does not enjoy privacy protection.

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