O'Connor, First Amendment Moderate, Exits


The Departure of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will give the White House a chance to move the court to the right by replacing her with a less moderate Justice.

That could be good news for media companies seeking further ownership deregulation if a pending FCC revision eventually ends up before the Justices--they didn't take up the issue this time around. A more conservative court could also mean the cable industry will face a court battle over adult programming, which social conservatives want the court to outlaw by ruling it obscenity.

Broadcasters could also face a tougher court fight on indecency if planned appeals get that far.

O'Connor wrote the dissent in the must-carry case, voting with those who would have denied must-carry status to broadcasters. She also was in the minority on the Playboy case, voting to uphold mandatory scrambling of adult programming.

In two recent media-related cases, O'Connor voted with the majority in decisions upholding cable companies' right to keep ISP competitors off their broadband networks and holding P2P network operators liable for copyright violations if they promote illegal downloading of movies, TV shows and music.

O'Connor, a moderate swing vote and the first woman on the court, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in July 1981.

President Bush could have two appointments to make if ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a strong conservative, resigns.