The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a nearly 30 year old ban on automated calls to cellphones despite concerns that it violates the First Amendment.
What We Know:
- To address the constitutional problem, the justices ruled that a recent exception to the law allowing robocalls to people who owe the government money must be eliminated. The decision was written by Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, with many justices agreeing only in part.
- The ruling brought to a close an unusual case in which neither side sought what the court deemed the most acceptable result. Political consultants and pollsters wanted the original law declared unconstitutional, while the government wanted both the ban and the government-debt exception upheld.
- Instead, as Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch quipped during oral argument in May, the result was “the irony of a First Amendment challenge leading to the suppression of more speech as a remedy”. He and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas would have given political operatives the exemption they sought.
- Gorsuch suggested that a better solution would be to declare the cellphone ban unconstitutional because of the exception and allow debt collectors and political operatives to call freely.
- He noted that, unlike when the original law was enacted, cellphone owners generally pay monthly fees rather than being charged for outgoing and incoming calls, and they can screen and block unwanted calls.
- “Somehow, in the name of vindicating the First Amendment, our remedial course today leads to the unlikely result that not a single person will be allowed to speak more freely and, instead, more speech will be banned,” he wrote.
The court said Monday’s ruling would not impede Congress’ nearly three-decade fight against automated phone calls. Last year alone, the federal government received 3.7 million complaints about robocalls.