Supreme Court Severs Gov’t Collection Exemption from TCPA; Leaves Rest of Statute Alone

The Supreme Court today ruled that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act does not need to be invalidated in order to correct a violation of the First Amendment in which it allowed collection calls to cell phones without prior consent when collecting debts that were owed to or guaranteed by the federal government.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants can be accessed by clicking here.

The Supreme Court upheld a ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in which it 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.

“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,” wrote Justice Brent Kavanaugh in the Court’s opinion.

While some had predicted that the Court would invalidate the entire TCPA, it chose not to do so.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Click here to register for a free webinar on Tuesday, July 7 at 4pm ET in which a panel of experts will analyze the ruling and its impact on the credit and collection industry.]

“The Court’s precedents reflect a decisive preference for surgical severance rather than wholesale destruction, even in the absence of a severability clause,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote, ruling to uphold Congress’s intent to protect consumer privacy by blocking robocalls.

The Court, by a vote of 7-to-2 opted to sever the debt collection restriction from the TCPA rather than throw out the entire law. The vote to determine whether the exemption violated the First Amendment was 6-to-3 in favor.

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