Supreme Pick Is 'Tuned' To Media


Judge John Roberts, President George W. Bush’s pick for the Supreme Court, comes from the D.C. Court of Appeals, where he has been since June 2003.

As such, he will be a familiar name to broadcasters  since the court frequently hears challenges to FCC rules.

Back in September of 2003, he wrote the opinion in the decision upholding the FCC’s DTV tuner mandate—the Consumer Electronics Association had challenged it—which the FCC also said was necessary to spur the switch to digital.

That tuner mandate, which required TV sets to contain DTV tuners according to a phase-in schedule set by the FCC, has been much in the news lately as Congress debates how best to speed the transition to digital.

In the DTV Tuner decision, Roberts saw no reason to substitute the court’s judgment for the FCC’s expertise on a decision regarding a transmission issue and its effect on speeding the digital switch. Court's generally try to give deference to a regulatory agency's expertise.

Roberts was also on the three-judge panel that ruled in December 2003 that an internet service provider--in this case Verizon--could not be subpoenaed--in this case by the Recording Industry Association of America--for information on peer-to-peer copyright infringers using file-sharing software by companies like Grokster and KaZaA.
The court ruled--Chief Judge Ginsberg writing the opinion--that, though it recognized RIAA's concern about widepspread digital copyright piracy, "it is not the province of the courts, however, to rewrite the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to make it fit a new and unforseen internet architecture, no matter how damaging that development has been to the music industry or threatens being to the motion picture and software industries."

That development was that unlike Napster, which was successfully enjoined from facilitating sharing thorugh its Web site, the Grokster et. al technologies allowed for users to directly search and share each other's libraries, with no Web site middleman involved, a scheme the DMCA did not foresee or cover, concluded the court.

Before joining the D.C. court, Roberts headed the appellate practice group of prominent D.C. firm Hogan & Hartson, also a familiar name to Washington media. While there, he was one of many lawyers who worked on briefs for Fox's successful challenge in the D.C. circuit to FCC ownership rules.

He is an alumnus of Harvard--undergraduate and law school--and a former clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist.