Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones

Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a decades-old federal regulation that prohibits robocalls to cellphones and expanded the ban to include government debt-collection calls.

A divided court preserved most of a 1991 law that imposed a general ban on automated calls. But the justices struck down an amendment that Congress passed in 2015 to carve out an exception for robocalls to collect government debt.

The case, which was argued by conference call in May due to the coronavirus, arose after a political consulting trade group asked the justices to strike down the entire Telephone Consumer Protection Act on free speech grounds.


The justices declined to go that far, deciding that the unconstitutional government debt-collection exception could be stripped from the otherwise lawful regulation.

“Invoking the First Amendment, they argue that the 2015 government-debt exception unconstitutionally favors debt-collection speech over political and other speech,” Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughConservative justices split in ruling for immigrant fighting deportation Supreme Court weighs whether to limit issuance of exemptions to biofuel blending requirements The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP makes infrastructure play; Senate passes Asian hate crimes bill MORE wrote for the court.

“We hold that the 2015 government-debt exception added an unconstitutional exception to the law,” he added. “We cure that constitutional violation by invalidating the 2015 government-debt exception and severing it from the remainder of the statute.”

The court said Monday’s ruling would not impede Congress’s nearly three-decade fight against automated phone calls. Last year alone, the federal government received 3.7 million complaints about robocalls.

“Americans passionately disagree about many things,” Kavanaugh wrote. “But they are largely united in their disdain for robocalls.”

Updated at 11 a.m.