U.S. President Trump on Monday withdrew the nomination of Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to serve another term as a member of the FCC, an abrupt move after Senate committee voted in favor of the appointment last month.
O’Rielly, a Republican, had his nomination put on hold just last week by Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe. Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Inhofe said he would block the O’Rielly nomination until the commissioner voted to overturn the FCC’s unanimous decision in favor of Ligado’s application for a low-power terrestrial network using the L-band. The FCC’s approval of Ligado in April was highly debated and received criticism from the U.S. Department of Defense, legislators, and others over concerns about GPS interference.
The White House withdrawal of O’Reilly’s nomination comes after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai separately on Monday announced the agency would open public comment on an NTIA petition (PDF) for a rulemaking under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which governs legal liability about content on the internet.
That relates to an executive order issued in May by President Trump directing the Commerce Department to petition the FCC, asking for regulations on moderation practices for social media.
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has said on Twitter about the petition that “the FCC shouldn’t be the President’s speech police.”
During the Media Institute’s Luncheon Series on July 29, O’Rielly discussed freedom of speech and the First Amendment. Ahead of his comments, he emphasized that the critique was not directed toward the president or White House “who are fully within their rights to all for the review of any federal statue’s application, the result of which would be subject to applicable statutory and constitutional guardrails.”
“The First Amendment protects us from limits on speech imposed by the government—not private actors—and we should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way. Like it or not, the First Amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making. I shudder to think of a day in which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated for the Internet, especially at the ironic behest of so-called free speech ‘defenders,’” O’Reilly stated in prepared remarks (PDF).
Speaking in June on C-Span, regarding Section 230 O’Rielly said he had “deep reservations” that Congress meant to provide intentional authority for the FCC on this matter, but would perform due diligence for jurisdictional issues. He said part of hearing from all sides included opening the issue up for input from stakeholders and hearing viewpoints from experts, not only from in D.C. and Congress, but academia as well.
O’Rielly has been a member of the Commission since 2013 after his nomination by President Obama and was confirmed for a second term in January 2015. His reappointment would have been for a new five-year term, starting retroactively from June 30, 2019 and lasting until 2024.
Commissioner O’Reilly’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Some, such as current principal of Boulder Thinking Preston Padden, had some strong words on social media about the nomination withdrawal. On Twitter he called it "the worst thing I ever have seen" and expressed concern for the independence of the FCC.
Padden has had a long career in the media and broadcast world, including chairman and CEO of American Sky, president of ABC Television network and EVP of Government Relations for the Walt Disney Company, among others.