Today's case, Barr v.
The plaintiffs, a group of organizations that included the American Association of Political Consultants, argued that the ban violated the First Amendment by favoring debt collection speech over other forms of speech.
The 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act imposes liability of up to $1,500 for any call or text placed to a mobile phone without prior consent using an automatic dialing system or artificial or prerecorded voice. In 2015, Congress enacted a third exemption for calls "made exclusively to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States".
Agency Chairman Ajit Pai issued the following statement on the ruling, saying he had long opposed the 2015 carveout and has been calling for Congress to reverse course on the matter. In a complicated split decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit's decision. A robocall that says, "Please pay your government debt" is legal.
Despite the ban, the volume of automated calls has surged in recent years, with Americans receiving 58.5 billion robocalls last year, an increase of 22% from 2018, according to YouMail, a company that provides a service to block automated calls.
"The result is not particularly surprising given the uphill battle the government faced in defending such a content-based speech constraint". They argued the 2015 law unconstitutionally discriminated among types of speech, in violation of the First Amendment, since it allowed the automated calls only if they were seeking to recover certain types of debt, not if they were looking to pass on any other message.
The court's liberals responded by pointing out the looming threat to progressive regulation that may come from the conservatives' attachment to the ban on content-based laws.
But Kavanaugh also said the court could strip out the exception without tossing the ban in its entirety. He wrote, "To reflexively treat all content-based distinctions as subject to strict scrutiny regardless of context or practical effect is to engage in an analysis untethered from the First Amendment's objectives".
Justice Gorsuch, joined in part by Justice Thomas, wrote separately to concur in part and dissent in part, agreeing with the plurality's conclusion that the exemption fails strict scrutiny, but disagreeing with the appropriate remedy. That's because those debt collectors were allowed to make automated calls while other groups weren't given the same treatment.
So, in theory, government debt collectors aren't allowed to send robocalls to your cellphone anymore.
The decision Monday upheld a 1991 law. The government's stated justification for the government-debt exception was collecting government debt. The two said Kavanaugh's approach amounted to a rewriting of the statute and left the suing groups without anything to show for their constitutional challenge. Additionally, the court found an express severability clause in the Communications Act. Thus, the court held that the 2015 government-debt exception was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court sided with the government.
In addition to the jurists joining Kavanaugh's opinion, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor agreed that the government-debt exception is severable. Because the exception was content-based, the plurality applied strict scrutiny-a standard that the government had conceded it could not satisfy. But six of the Justices agreed that the TCPA's government-debt exception violated the First Amendment, and seven agreed that it could be severed from the rest of the TCPA.