FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc., 508 U.S. 307 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit

No. 92-603. Argued March 29, 1993—Decided June 1, 1993

The Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (Act) provides that cable television systems be franchised by local governmental authorities, but exempts, inter alia, facilities serving "only subscribers in 1 or more multiple unit dwellings under common ownership, control, or management, unless such . . . facilities us[e] any public right-of-way," 602(7)(B). After petitioner Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that a satellite master antenna television (SMATV) system—which typically receives a satellite signal through a rooftop dish and then retransmits the signal by wire to units within a building or a building complex—is subject to the franchise requirement if its transmission lines interconnect separately owned and managed buildings or if its lines use or cross any public right-of-way, respondents, SMATV operators, petitioned the Court of Appeals for review. Among other things, the court found that 602(7) violated the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause because there is no rational basis for distinguishing between those facilities exempted by the statute and SMATV systems linking separately owned and managed buildings.

Held: Section 602(7)(B)'s common-ownership distinction is constitutional.

Pp. 313-320. (a) In areas of social and economic policy, a statutory classification that neither proceeds along suspect lines nor infringes fundamental constitutional rights must be upheld against equal protection challenge if any reasonably conceivable state of facts could provide a rational basis for the classification. See, e. g., Sullivan v. Stroop, 496 U. S. 478, 485. On rational-basis review, a statutory classification such as the one at issue comes before the Court bearing a strong presumption of validity, and those attacking its rationality have the burden to negate every conceivable basis that might support it. Since a legislature need not articulate its reasons for enacting a statute, it is entirely irrelevant for constitutional purposes whether the legislature was actually motivated by the conceived reason for the challenged distinction. Legislative choice is not subject to courtroom factfinding and may be based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data. Adherence to these restraints on judicial review preserves to the legislative branch


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