The long-awaited Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) decision from the U.S. Supreme Court related to the TCPA’s government debt exemption is finally here. Bottom line up front: arguing free speech principles, the Supreme Court struck down and severed the government debt exemption from the 2015 amendment of the TCPA.
The case revolved around political and nonprofit organizations who wanted the TCPA ban on “robocalls” struck down so they could make political robocalls to cell phones. Their avenue to this was the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. These organizations argued that by treating government-backed debt collection calls different than other forms of speech, the TCPA violated the First Amendment.
While the majority of the Supreme Court’s justices agreed that the government debt exemption seems to violate the First Amendment, the court declined to go as far as the political and nonprofit organizations were hoping. Instead of striking down the entire TCPA ban on “robocalls,” the Supreme Court took a narrower approach by eliminating the problematic government-backed debt exemption, leaving the rest of the TCPA intact.
This, effectively, affirms the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on this case. Oddly enough, the decision solves the organizations’ First Amendment concerns but still prohibits them from doing what they want to do: send political robocalls.
insideARM will post a deeper dive into the Supreme Court's decision later this week.
For the debt collection, this decision will have a significant impact for a certain segment of the industry, but likely little impact for other segments. Debt collectors who collect debts on behalf of the government might now be opened up to new TCPA scrutiny, so they should go through a thorough review of their systems and processes to ensure they are compliant with the TCPA.
What this decision did not really address was an issue that would have a much larger impact on the industry as a whole: the circuit court split on what, exactly, is the definition of an ATDS?
One very disappointing thing about this decision, however, is that the Supreme Court seems to think that all calls to which the TCPA may be applicable are “robocalls.” There are definitely illegal robocalls abound—we’ve all received them, and likely have call blocking technology on our phones to prevent them—but there is a world of difference between an illegal robocall and calls made by legitimate businesses that have consent to contact consumers. It’s unfortunate to see the Supreme Court not reference the difference.
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