ASTROLINE COMMUNICATIONS v. SHURBERG BROADCASTING

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
89-700
Petitioner 
Astroline Communications
Respondent 
Shurberg Broadcasting
Consolidation 
Metro Broadcasting Inc. v FCC, No. 89-453
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
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Facts of the Case 

In an effort to comply by its duty to promote programming diversity, under the Communications Act of 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted two minority preference policies. The first policy awarded preferences to minority ownership bids for licenses for new radio or television broadcasting stations. The second policy allowed radio or television broadcasters with questionable license qualifications, to avoid an FCC investigation of their actions by making a "distress sale" of their licenses to a legitimate minority outfit. Upon FCC approval, Faith Center Inc. "distress sold" its television license to Astroline's minority-owned outfit. Shurberg, a nonminority applicant for a similar license, sought appellate review of Astroline's award. The appellate court agreed, and invalidated the distress sale policy as unconstitutional. Astroline appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Question 

Does the FCC's minority preference policy, giving preference to minority ownership bids for new radio or television broadcasting licenses and permitting "distress sales" to minority owned enterprises only, violate a nonminority bidder's' Fifth Amendment equal protection rights?

Conclusion 

No. The Court, in the last opinion authorer by Justice William J. Brennan,Jr., held that the FCC's minority preference policies are constitutional because they provide appropriate remedies for discrimination victims and are aimed at the advancement of the legitimate congressional objective of program diversity. The FCC's minority preference policies were closely related to, and substantially advanced, Congress's legitimate interest in affording the public a diverse array of programming options. The availability of program diversity serves the entire viewing and listening public, not just minorities, and is therefore consistent with First Amendment values. Finally, the Court noted that the FCC's minority preference policy did not unduly burden nonminorities. The FCC did not predetermine the number of distress sales, and could only invoke them in a small number of cases, when no competing bids are filed and the licensee elects to sell at a lower price rather than risk an FCC investigation.

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ASTROLINE COMMUNICATIONS v. SHURBERG BROADCASTING. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 02 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_89_700>.
ASTROLINE COMMUNICATIONS v. SHURBERG BROADCASTING, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_89_700 (last visited September 2, 2014).
"ASTROLINE COMMUNICATIONS v. SHURBERG BROADCASTING," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 2, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_89_700.