High Court Orders Appeals Court to Review 'Wardrobe Malfunction' Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a federal court of appeals to review its ruling last year against the fine imposed by the FCC on CBS for the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

"The judgment is vacated and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for further consideration in light of FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc.," the high court stated Monday.

The FCC v. Fox case, which also centered on "fleeting" indecency on public television, was ruled on last week by the Supreme Court, which found that FCC's prohibitions against indecent speech on public television was neither "arbitrary" nor "capricious," as a court of appeals earlier found it to be.

"It would be arbitrary or capricious to ignore such matters," it stated in its majority opinion.

The high court's 5-4 decision effectively reversed the ruling of a federal appeals court in New York and presents the Third Circuit Court of Appeals new reason to review its similar decision against the FCC.

The Court of Appeals had ruled last July that CBS wasn't liable for the "wardrobe malfunction" incident that left Janet Jackson's bared breast for 90 million viewers to see because the material appeared to be "unscripted." The court also ruled that the exposure was too brief to violate FCC rules designed to keep children from seeing indecent material broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The FCC had "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" in penalizing the network for a "fleeting image of nudity," the three-judge panel decided.

The ruling was strongly criticized by pro-family conservatives, including Tim Winters, president of the Parents Television Council, who said the court's decision went "beyond judicial activism."

"[I]t borders on judicial stupidity," he stated. "If a striptease during the Super Bowl in front of 90 million people-including millions of children-doesn't fit the parameters of broadcast indecency, then what does?"

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, similarly commented, "Apparently, exposing oneself no longer qualifies as broadcast indecency."

Following the order Monday, the PTC praised the Supreme Court for "siding not only with families, but with Congress and the overwhelming will of the American people."

"Last year's decision by the Third Circuit Court was simply preposterous," Winters expressed in a statement.

"We are grateful that the Supreme Court is asking the lower court to take another look at its ruling. If broadcasters are going to use the publicly owned airwaves for free, then they must agree to abide by the terms of their licenses and by the broadcast decency law, rather than fight it at every turn. We call on the FCC to act quickly on the backlog of broadcast indecency complaints filed by the public," he concluded.