Supreme Court Upholds Cellphone Robocall Ban

July 6, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON— The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a 1991 law that bars robocalls to cellphones.

The case, argued by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, stems from a 2015 decision by Congress to carve out an exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The Act generally prohibits robocalls to cellphones and home phones, but the 2015 amendment allowed robocalls to collect debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government, including to collect student loan and mortgage debts.

Political consultants and pollsters were among those asking the justices to strike down the 1991 law that bars them from making robocalls to cellphones as a violation of their free speech rights under the Constitution.

The issue was whether, by allowing one kind of speech but not others, the exception made the whole law unconstitutional. Six justices concluded it did.

The ruling written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh throws out the exception for government-debt collection, but preserved the broader prohibition.

“As a result, plaintiffs still may not make political robocalls to cellphones, but their speech is now treated equally with debt-collection speech,” Kavanaugh wrote.

He concluded: “Congress created a general restriction on robocalls to cellphones but carved out an exception. That exception is unconstitutional; the court fixed the problem by separating it from the rest of the statute, so now all robocalls are unconstitutional again.”

There are now five decisions to go before the justices wrap up their pandemic-extended term. Two regard subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s tax returns and other financial records, two focus on the religion clauses of the Constitution, and one could determine whether much of eastern Oklahoma is a Native American reservation. 

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