The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law established in 2015 that made it possible for federal debt collectors to make robocalls, was violating the Constitution. The highest court in the land stated that those debt collectors were allowed to make automated calls while other groups weren’t given the same allowance.
Congress passed and Barack Obama signed in 2015 a short provision carving out an exception for calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” That provision was favorable news for some debt collectors and bad news for the rest of us who quest for a phone not riddled with robo calls.
Congress typically isn’t allowed to favor certain speech over others, but that’s precisely what Congress did, wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh for the six-member majority. “A robocall that says, ‘Please pay your government debt’ is legal,” Kavanaugh wrote. “A robocall that says, ‘Please donate to our political campaign’ is illegal. That is about as content-based as it gets.
“Congress has impermissibly favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech, in violation of the First Amendment,” Kavanaugh wrote. Political groups “still may not make political robocalls to cell phones, but their speech is now treated equally with debt-collection speech.”
For nearly 30 years, robocalls have been basically prohibited under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. But in 2015, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, amending the law to let debt collectors make automated calls to collect money owed to the federal government, including many student loan and mortgage debts.
“Although collecting government debt is no doubt a worthy goal, the Government concedes that it has not sufficiently justified the differentiation between government-debt collection speech and other important categories of robocall speech, such as political speech, charitable fundraising, issue advocacy, commercial advertising, and the like,” Kavanaugh wrote.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented, stating that they thought the government had justified special treatment for federal debt collectors.