Supreme Court rules against law allowing debt-collection robocalls to cell phones

It struck down a 2015 provision that allowed robocalls on US-backed debt
Nicole Lee
N. Lee|07.06.20

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Nicole Lee
July 6, 2020 6:25 PM
In this article: TCPA, Supreme Court, news, gear
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 06:  A set of microphones stand outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion on Monday that says states can require Electoral College voters to back the winner of their states popular vote in a presidential election. The court also upheld a 1991 law that bars robocalls to cellphones. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

The US Supreme Court decided today that debt collectors can no longer make robocalls to cell phones (via Ars Technica). In doing so, the court has ruled that the prior provision to the law violated the First Amendment by favoring debt-collection speech over other kinds of speech. 

The law cited here is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 which prohibits almost all robocalls to cell phones. In 2015, however, Congress added a provision that allowed debt-collection robocalls on government-backed loans, which include student loans, mortgages, past taxes and so forth. 

The American Association of Political Consultants and three other organizations filed a suit aimed to invalidate the entirety of the TCPA so as to make it possible to make political robocalls to cell phones. But six of the nine justices have decided to invalidate the 2015 exception instead, stating that the 2015 update “impermissibly favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech, in violation of the First Amendment.”

Additionally, the Supreme Court saw no reason to dismantle the TCPA, as it functions without the debt-collection exception. "The remainder of the law is capable of functioning independently and would be fully operative as a law. Severing this relatively narrow exception to the broad robocall restriction fully cures the First Amendment unequal treatment problem and does not raise any other constitutional problems," the high court said. Because of traditional severability principles, "the 2015 government-debt exception must be invalidated and severed from the remainder of the statute," the court said.

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