Today the U.S. Supreme Court found in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. that the federal debt collection exemption to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s general prohibition on autodialed calls violates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court held that the exemption was a content-based restriction on speech because it favors speech made for the purpose of collecting government debt over political and other speech. Such content-based restrictions are subject to the “strict scrutiny” standard, which the government conceded it could not satisfy.
Rather than strike down the TCPA in its entirety, as some advocates have proposed, the Supreme Court held that the appropriate remedy was to sever the provision from the statute. Justice Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion, noting that “Americans passionately disagree about many things. But they are largely united in their disdain for robocalls.” The decision further notes that the Federal Government received a staggering 3.7 million complaints about robocalls in 2019 alone.
Due to the increasing prevalence and sophistication of robocallers, industry has proposed a number of creative technical solutions to combat robocallers. For example, there are bots that answer calls and use artificial intelligence generated speech designed to waste telemarketers’ time by keeping them on the line, voice biometric technology that automatically identifies synthesized speech, and services that will automatically gather a robocaller’s details and generate a demand letter and court documents for filing.
With today’s Supreme Court decision, TCPA lawsuits will likely remain one of the most filed types of class actions in courts across the country, especially since private parties can sue to recover up to $1500 per violation or three times their actual monetary losses.