TOPEKA – (March 3, 2020) – The federal law banning robocalls is a critical tool for safeguarding consumer privacy that operates within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment free speech protections, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has told the U.S. Supreme Court.
Schmidt, along with a bipartisan coalition of 32 other state attorneys general, yesterday filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the ban on robocalls in the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and a narrow exemption within the statute constitute a valid, content-neutral regulation of free speech under the First Amendment. The TCPA, enacted in 1991, is a critical piece of federal consumer protection legislation allowing states to sue illegal robocallers on their residents’ behalf.
“The exploding problem of unwanted robocalls is one of the most pressing consumer protection issues Kansans face on a day-to-day basis,” Schmidt said. “The Telephone Consumer Protection Act is an important piece of our ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to trying to curb the scourge of unwanted robocalls, and removing that tool from our enforcement efforts would be a major step in the wrong direction.”
The case comes before the Supreme Court after a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit striking down a narrow TCPA exemption for calls to collect debt backed by the federal government as an impermissible content-based discrimination under the First Amendment, while leaving in place the remainder of the law. The respondents in the case, the American Association of Political Consultants, Inc., argue that the narrow exemption is invalid and therefore the entire law should be struck down as unconstitutional. The attorneys general argue even if the Court finds the exemption invalid, the 4th Circuit’s decision to sever the provision from the overall statute was correct and the TCPA is plainly capable of functioning without it – as it did for more than two decades from the time the original law was enacted until the exemption was added in 2015.
Schmidt has prioritized protecting and strengthening federal laws combatting illegal robocalls. In January, President Donald Trump signed into law the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, legislation to curb illegal robocalls and caller-ID spoofing endorsed by Schmidt and attorneys general from all 49 other states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories. Many of its provisions codify in federal law measures previously agreed by major telecommunications companies and several state attorneys general, including Schmidt.
The more than 58.5 billion robocalls made in 2019 made them the number one source of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in consumer losses.
The attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division works to enforce do-not-call laws and protect Kansas consumers from being harassed and scammed by robocalls. Kansans who may have been scammed by a robocall may contact the Consumer Protection Division at (800) 432-2310 or at www.InYourCornerKansas.org.
A copy of the states’ brief filed in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc., No. 19-631, is available at https://bit.ly/2TB1VwG.