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Supreme Court Could Rule All Automated Calls to Cell Phones Protected Under First Amendment

Robocall recordings are already a nuisance we are all too familiar with. From claims that your warranty expired, too-good-to-be-true vacation prizes, or threats that the IRS is after you. Though these fraudulent calls happen, the frequency is fairly low because of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) passed in 1991, which protects consumers against nuisance calls.

TCPA went mostly unchanged until 2015 when Congress added an amendment that permitted robocalls that were “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” These “guaranteed” debts include student loans or debts owed to departments like the Department of Agriculture, Housing and Urban and Development, and Health and Human Services.

The US Supreme Court could rule in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants that automated calls to cell phones are protected under the First Amendment, increasing the number of unwanted calls cell users receive. AAPC is a political polling and consultant firm whose data has been limited to landline users, an almost extinct audience. The organization is challenging the entire law because it allows some calls but not others. In other words, the content-based language in the law makes it too selective to be fair.

Either way, the ruling could be polarizing.  If the Court rules in favor of AAPC, it will be because they value the protection of speech more than your cell phone ringing incessantly. And if they rule against AAPC, the Court reveals their own possible bias against speech or outcomes they don’t agree with.

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