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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Standing Up for Listeners' Rights: A History of Public Participation at the Federal Communications Commission


The legal doctrine of standing regulates access to the federal courts. In a 1923 case, Frothingham v. Mellon, the Supreme Court limited citizen or taxpayer standing.1 It held that people who claimed an injury based solely on their status as citizens or taxpayers would not be granted a forum in the federal courts, because their grievances were too general and undifferentiated from the populace as a whole. Instead, these citizens and taxpayers should seek redress of their grievances in the political branches of government. Similar doctrines restricted the extent to which citizens could intervene in formal administrative proceedings. Prior to the 1960s, intervention before federal administrative agencies was typically limited to members of the regulated industry. Beginning in the mid-1960s, the federal courts lowered barriers for citizen standing and intervention.2

1 Frothingham v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447 (1923). 2 Except in the rare instance where the distinction is relevant, this dissertation uses the term "citizen standing" to both standing and intervention.

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