Supreme Court declines to review 2011 Third Circuit decision that effectively reinstated 1975 ban.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit closed out the 2011 Supreme Court term on a winning streak, at least in terms of the Third Circuit’s FCC-related decisions. First, the Supremes declined to review the Third Circuit’s handiwork in the Janet Jackson case. And second, in the mundane list of review denials released on the last day of the Supreme Court term, the Supremes also declined to review the Circuit’s decision overturning the FCC’s 2008 revisions to the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule.

As we have previously reported, last year the Third Circuit affirmed – for the most part – the Commission’s 2008 Ownership Order. That order had largely reset most media ownership rules back to the way they had been in 2003 (before the same Court in 2004 overturned an attempted 2003 revision). (Confused? Check out our earlier post on the Order for additional explanation.)

But the 2008 Order did not affirm the FCC’s revised newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. The Commission, under then-Chairman Martin, had attempted to rewrite that rule to allow limited cross-ownership in major markets. The Third Circuit rejected that revision, finding that the Commission, in adopting the modified rule, hadn’t jumped through all the necessary procedural hoops. 

By overturning the Commission, the Third Circuit effectively reinstated the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership that had been in place since 1975. A number of media parties – but not the FCC – asked the Supreme Court to review that aspect of the Third Circuit’s decision. They argued that the ban is unconstitutional and should be struck down entirely. 

But the Supreme Court declined the invitation, leaving in place the Third Circuit’s decision and, with it, the 1975 newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership prohibition.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case will likely have very little immediate effect. It does, however, remove one hurdle that stood in the way of the Commission’s continuing – if not never-ending – review of its media ownership rules (about which we last wrote last January). While there may still be many other causes for delay in resolving the proceeding, at least now the threat of imminent Supreme Court intervention is not one of them.