WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court has upheld the federal ban on robocalls to mobile phones, rejecting a bid to topple the law on free speech grounds.
As part of the splintered ruling, the court broadened the 1991 measure, tossing out a 2015 exception for calls made to collect debts owed to the federal government.
Writing the court’s lead opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that exception “favors speech made for collecting government debt over political and other speech,” rendering it constitutionally suspect.
The ruling is a defeat for political groups that had sought a new avenue for campaign activity in the months leading up to the November election. The challengers, which included the Oregon Democratic Party and Washington State Democratic Central Committee, sought to overturn the entire robocall ban.
But Kavanaugh said the court could strip out the government exception without tossing the ban in its entirety.
“Constitutional litigation is not a game of gotcha against Congress, where litigants can ride a discrete constitutional flaw in a statute to take down the whole, otherwise constitutional statute,” Kavanaugh wrote for himself, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito.
The ruling upholds the decision of a federal appeals court. President Trump’s administration defended the ban, along with the government exception.
The 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act imposes liability of up to $1,500 for any call or text placed to a mobile phone without prior consent using an automatic dialing system or artificial or prerecorded voice.
The case is Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, 19-631.