U.S. Supreme Court upholds ban on cellphone robocalls

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled to uphold a federal ban on robocalls to cellphones in a ruling issued Monday.

The ruling also gets rid of an exception put in place in 2015 that exempts government debt-collection services. The ruling supports the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) passed in 1991.

Neither side fully got what they wanted in the case.

Political consultants and pollsters wanted the TCPA declared unconstitutional on the grounds of free speech.

The ruling blocks cell phones from getting robocalls from political campaigns.

“It violates the First Amendment and should be struck down,” said Roman Martinez during the May arguments, attorney on behalf of the respondents including the American Association of Political Consultants.

Alana Joyce, Executive Director of the American Association of Political Consultants released a statement about the ruling:

“AAPC members help candidates and organizations effectively exercise their First Amendment right to free speech, the foundation of fair elections and citizen engagement in the legislative process. We are grateful that the Supreme Court recognized the importance of the First Amendment and the harms imposed by content-based restrictions on speech but are disappointed that the Court did not rule in favor of the AAPC entirely. There remain open questions about what the TCPA means and how it applies to those who engage in First Amendment-protected policy and political discussions. We hope the Court grants review to resolve those issues in the pending Facebook case, addressing the proper interpretation of the TCPA’s auto dialer definition. AAPC is committed to vigorously supporting our members’ ability to deliver high quality, powerful services, through education, collaboration, and legal action where necessary. "

The government had wanted the TCPA and the exception for government-debt upheld.

“The effect of automated calls to cell phones is not just potentially to disturb residential privacy, it’s potentially to disturb them when they’re at work, when they’re on social occasions,” said Malcom Stewart, Deputy Solicitor General for the U.S. Department of Justice in May.

The lawmakers behind the TCPA praised the high court’s ruling. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), one of the authors of the TCPA and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) released a joint statement:

“The Court’s decision followed commonsense principles: Americans don’t want to be harassed by robocalls and Congress has the authority to stop abusive calls. The case for the TCPA has only become clearer since it became law nearly thirty years ago, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle continue to recognize that blocking these invasive calls is a national priority. Today’s decision preserves the TCPA’s ability to protect Americans from countless unwanted robocalls every year, every day, and indeed every hour and minute.”