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R.I.P. George Carlin, Obscenity Crusader

GeorgecarlinLet's pause to remember George Carlin. Besides his ingenious observational skills, Carlin is a superstar in media law due to his role in an essential 1978 Supreme Court decision, F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation.

The case evolved out of his stand-up routine, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," leading the court to examine government regulation of indecency over broadcast airwaves. Carlin later said, "My name is a footnote in American legal history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of."

He was arrested after performing the routine in Milwaukee in 1972. Charged with disturbing the peace, he was freed on $150 bail, but got a Wisconsin judge to dismiss the case on grounds of free speech. But that wasn't the end of the case.

The routine was later broadcast on radio, leading to another case. The Supreme Court decided that regulation was allowed to protect children even if Carlin's words weren't necessarily obscene, but it was Justice John Paul Stevens' advisement of restraint ("We simply hold that when the Commission finds that a pig has entered the parlor, the exercise of its regulatory power does not depend on proof that the pig is obscene.”) that became a ruling standard for 25 years thereafter, ironically loosening up content on TV and on the radio, until recent events have caused politicians, lawyers, and judges to once again examine the issue.