The Supreme Court has announced it will hear arguments in a landmark Telephone Consumer Protection Act Case — Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants — on April 22, setting the stage for the possible invalidation of the entire TCPA.
The case, on appeal from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, deals with a provision in the TCPA that allows companies collecting debts on behalf of the federal government to contact individuals on their cell phones using an automated telephone dialing system without needing to obtain prior consent to do so. In most cases, the TCPA prohibits companies from contacting individuals on their cell phones using an ATDS without first receiving consent to do so.
Last year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the exemption from complying with the TCPA was unconstitutional, a ruling that was backed by other Appeals Courts. The Fourth Circuit’s decision did overturn a lower court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of the exemption, saying it does not violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
In seeking to have the Supreme Court hear arguments in the case, the federal government asked two questions: Whether the government-debt exception to the TCPA’s automated-call restriction violates the First Amendment, and whether the proper remedy for any constitutional violation is to sever the exception from the remainder of the statute. If the exception is not severable, one option available to the Supreme Court would be to rule the entire TCPA is invalid, which would throw everything into chaos.
From one report discussing the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case, “The outcome of this battle will see either the TCPA’s ATDS restrictions fall or our First Amendment protections evaporate. There are really no other outcomes here.”