Barr v. Am. Ass'n of Political Consultants, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: July 6, 2020
  • Case #: 19-631
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KAVANAUGH, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and ALITO, J., joined, and in which THOMAS, J., joined as to Parts I and II. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment with respect to severability and dissenting in part, in which GINSBURG and KAGAN, JJ., joined. GORSUCH, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which THOMAS, J., joined as to Part II.
  • Full Text Opinion

The 2015 amendment to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 excluding robocalls made to collect government debts from the general prohibition against robocalls to cellular phones is unconstitutional and therefore severed.

In 2015, Congress amended the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) restriction on robocalls to permit robocalls made to collect government debts.  Respondents, a group of political-outreach organizations, filed suit and claimed that authorizing robocalls only in connection with collecting debt owed to the federal government violated their First Amendment rights.  The District Court found that the robocall exception was constitutional.  The Court of Appeals vacated the District Court’s judgment and held the exception was unconstitutional and severed it from the TCPA’s robocall restriction.  The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed, holding that the exception was unconstitutional, and therefore must be severed from the robocall restriction.  Content-based laws, such as the robocall exception, must pass strict scrutiny to be constitutional.  Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U. S. 155, 165 (2015).  Petitioners, the Government, conceded that the robocall exception did not meet strict scrutiny and the Supreme Court agreed.  When, as here, existing statutes with severability clauses are amended to include unconstitutional provisions, the offending provisions may be severed and the rest of the statute may stand.  Frost v. Corporation Comm’n of Okla., 278 U. S. 515, 526–527 (1929). Therefore, the Supreme Court reasoned that the government-debt exception may be severed from the rest of the TCPA’s restrictions on robocalls.  AFFIRMED.

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