Supreme court to consider robo calls


The issue of those pesky robo-calls will finally be decided by the U.S. Court and a decision could come in 2020 whether something legally can be done about them.

The Court has agreed to hear a case this spring over the constitutionality of a federal law banning calls or texting cellphones with an auto-dialer or using an artificial or prerecorded voice. The law is being challenged by the American Association of Political Consultants, two state Democratic parties and a Democratic polling firm that relies on IVR technology.

The case is challenging a provision within the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 — that could leave anyone who makes those calls (without prior consent) on the hook for a up to $1,500 per call or text — on First Amendment grounds, with part of the challenge hinging on a carveout in the law that allows for those calls to be made “to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.”

A lower court actually did rule that the debt-collector exception in the TCPA was unconstitutional — but instead of tossing the whole thing out, just struck that carve out. This led all involved to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in: the challengers, who want the entire ban ruled unconstitutional (and not just making debt collectors mad), and the government, which argued that the court erred in throwing out the debt-collector exception but would ask for severability even if its argument is turned aside.

“Our clients are direct participants in the American political process who want to use automatic-call technology to engage in political speech at the core of the First Amendment,” Roman Martinez, the lead attorney for the AAPC and other clients, told Score. “It’s important that they be able to conduct outreach to the public without triggering the statute’s crippling liability scheme.”

If the Supreme Court does decide to rule the entire ban unconstitutional, it would have a huge trickle-down effect for politics. Just consider those behind the lawsuit: Public Policy Polling (the Democratic pollster) would be able to dial cellphones for their polls now, a potential boon to an industry that’s struggling with response rates. And the Oregon and Washington state Democratic parties (and other parties and campaigns) would be able to reach voters a lot easier, a major change for everything from fundraising to GOTV efforts.

A decision will come before the 2020 elections, but probably not until at least the primaries are mostly wrapped up. Oral arguments will likely be in April.

Source: POLITICO’s Morning Energy Report

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