In a closely monitored case, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the restriction on robocalls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) of 1991 but struck the Act’s government debt-collection exclusion. Many followed this case, anticipating it would result in a fatal blow to the TCPA. But today’s opinion extinguished these hopes.
In response to consumer complaints, Congress passed the TCPA to prohibit robocalls to cell phones, among other things. 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). In 2015, Congress amended the robocall restriction, carving out a new government-debt exception that allows robocalls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States. 129 Stat. 588.
In 2016, the plaintiffs, political and nonprofit organizations, filed a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, claiming that the TCPA (§227(b)(1)(A)(iii)) violated the First Amendment. Plaintiffs sought the ability to make political robocalls to cell phones. Invoking the First Amendment, plaintiffs argued that the 2015 government-debt exception unconstitutionally favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech, and asked the Court to invalidate the TCPA’s entire restriction on robocalls. The District Court held that the government-debt carve-out was content-based but withstood strict scrutiny. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, invalidating the 2015 exception and holding that the content-based restriction did not survive strict scrutiny.
Continue Reading TCPA Protection Against Robocalls Upheld. Did the Supreme Court Sacrifice the Right of Free Speech For the Sake of Rescuing a Bad Statute?