On the morning of Friday, October 2, one of the biggest announcements in recent memory regarding the future of broadcast media was confirmed by the soon-to-be-departing Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai.
The Supreme Court granted certiorari in FCC vs. Prometheus, putting the matter of ownership rule modernizaton in the hands of the nation’s highest legal body. Now, Pai’s legacy at the Commission could stand on a decision that begins with Oral Arguments scheduled 24 hours before his final day as Chairman.
The U.S. Supreme Court session beginning January 11, 2021 will see the justices hold a one-hour session for oral arguments in FCC v Prometheus Radio Project and NAB v Prometheus, a consolidated case that some in the Washington legal community considered a gamble by the Commission.
Pai was elated with the high court’s decision to hear the Commission’s appeal of the Third Circuit’s remand of its rule rewrite. “This is a breakthrough: a real chance to finally have media ownership rules that better match today’s realities,” he said. “For seventeen years, the same divided panel of the Third Circuit has repeatedly frustrated the FCC’s efforts to amend its rules to allow broadcasters to compete in today’s dynamic media marketplace.”
The Commission’s decision to appeal the Third Circuit remand came on April 17, 2020 — well before there was any indication Joe Biden would be elected as the next U.S. President, ending Donald Trump’s time in the White House. And, it came well before the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opening up a slot for Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett’s presence on the Court could very well result in a FCC victory, paving the way for increased deregulation. It would, at the very least, bring a win to Ajit Pai well after his departure from the Commission. But, it could also set the stage for a rule reversal under a Democratic-controlled FCC, with Jessica Rosenworcel seen as the next Chairman of the agency.