By Court TV Staff
ORIGINAL STORY 5/5/20
Those insufferable robocalls will be argued before the Supreme Court of the United States in this month’s live teleconferences. Robocalls are the number one complaint the Federal Communications Commission receives each year, according to Commissioner Ajit Pai.
And the calls aren’t just an annoyance, many are illegal since the passage of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.
But the American Association of Political Consultants, represented by attorney Roman Martinez, wants to use an automatic dialer to share political messages during campaigns, and they’re using one of the TCPA’s loopholes to do so.
An exception to the TCPA’s ban on robocalls is if a person agrees to receive the call.
Another is if the caller is collecting a government debt. Constitutional law professor Fred Smith of Emory University says, “So the legal argument…is that if they’re allowing other people to do it, perhaps [the association] should be able to engage in the type of speech that we most associate with the First Amendment right, namely political speech.”
In 2019, the lower court held in favor of the political consultants, finding the exception allowing government debt collectors to use robocalls is unconstitutional.
The FCC and U.S. Attorney General William Barr appealed. And now, represented by the Solicitor General’s Office, they’ll argue the law doesn’t restrict the content of the call and doesn’t infringe on free speech.
Florida Gulf Coast University law professor Pamela Seay says the question over the law’s exception, could threaten the entire act. “If the TCPA is thrown out, then we could be put back into a position where we are all of a sudden getting those calls again, and we no longer have that privacy. I see that as a hornet’s nest and a real problem,” says Seay.
Professor Smith says while the odds are low the Court will gut the entire TCPA, if the Justices do hold in favor of the Political Consultants, we can expect to continue receiving robocalls, and perhaps more particularly around election seasons.
Court TV’s Crime and Justice Reporter Julia Jenae contributed to this report.