U.S. Supreme Court Upholds the Ban on Robocalls to Cell Phones

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Image Source: Supreme Court of the United States

The exception of robocalls for debt collection by the government was held to be unlawful. It decided to sever this exception from the rest of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 1991. It held the exception violates the First Amendment Rights. Justice Kavanaugh gave the majority judgement, 6-3.

Background

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 1991 (TCPA) prohibits automated calls to cellphones. In 2015 the congress added a new exception to this Act. The Act permitted Robocalls for collection of government-backed debts. This exception carved out content-based speech restriction. The American Association of Political Consultants and three other agencies filed a suit. The District Court held that this clause would survive the strict scrutiny. The government’s compelling interest in the collection of the debts. The Fourth Circuit held that the law could not withstand the strict scrutiny. The Court invalidates the government- debt exception. It applied the severability and severed the exception to the robocalls restriction.

Arguments

The political organization wanted to make automated political robocalls. However, the TCPA barred them from doing so. The consultants made the argument of violation of First Amendment speech rights. They won the argument but did not achieve any practical result in their favour. The Court invalidated the exception, but the political robocalls were still illegal. The consultants argued that this exception is ‘content-based’. The robocalls based on the government-debt collection are valid. But political robocalls are unlawful. This violates the First Amendment Rights, depending on the content being expressed. The Act favours the government over others. The consultants argued for the ‘strict scrutiny’ review of the law. Their main contention was the striking down of the entire Act.

Court’s opinion

The main question before the Court was a violation of First Amendment Rights. Justice Brett Kavanaugh explained the following. That content-based law from the decision of Reed v Town of Gilbert. Regulation of speech based on the speaker conveys is content-based law. It requires the speaker to have a specific matter. He held that the government has no right to restrict expression based on the subject matter. This would lead to differential treatment, which violates the First Amendment Speech Rights. The Court held that the TCPA functioned well until the addition of the exception to the Act. The severability of this clause from the Act would do justice. Thus, it held that the consultants’ argument of the entire Act is unconstitutional to be invalid.

The government argued that the statute is content-neutral. However, the Court held this to be unpersuasive. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed the following. That there is no reason why a private debt call is more intrusive than a government-debt call. This invalidated the government’s argument—the argument of no harassment committed to the people through robocalls. Justice Ruth and Kagan disagreed that this violates the First Amendment Rights. They agreed to the majority opinion of severability of the exception.

Court’s Decision

The Court’s decision was a landmark judgement. This is because it has a significant impact on the 2020 elections. The Court avoided prying into that aspect. The Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit decision to severe the exception from the Act. The exception was held to violate the First Amendment Rights Of speech.


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