Supreme Court Hears Robocall Case

The Supreme Court heard a case Wednesday, Barr [attorney general] v. American Assn. of Political Consultants, held appropriately by teleconference, that could determine the fate of the robocall-restricting Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). 

A lower court threw out a 2015 exception to the TCPA for automated debt collection calls by the government, but preserved the overall TCPA. A political speech group took the opportunity to challenge the TCPA cell phone call ban generally, saying it impinged on political free speech and that it is the restriction, not the exception, that should be struck down. 

Related: FCC to Robocalls: No More Warnings

The Supremes agreed to hear the appeal, as they often do when a federal law is struck down by a lower court. If the High Court decides that the exception is, indeed, invalid, it could also rule that it is not severable from TCPA and invalidate the latter as well. 

The case includes issues of suppression of First Amendment speech and privacy, which the Justices probed during the hour-plus argument, the third in its COVID-19-prompted teleconference oral arguments being streamed live.  

“Today’s arguments made clear that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is now, more than ever, an essential law that protects consumers from countless unwanted robocalls every year," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who filed a brief with the court in support of the TCPA. "Without such protections, these calls would intrude on Americans’ privacy, put them at risk of costly scams, and undermine confidence in the nation’s telephone networks. If the Supreme Court were to invalidate the TCPA, Americans would experience a tsunami of robocalls and constant bombardment of their mobile devices that could render them effectively useless. After hearing today’s arguments, we are confident the Court will uphold this important statute.” 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.