Supreme Court Invalidates TCPA Government-Debt Collection Exception but Otherwise Preserves Law

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

On July 6, 2020, the Supreme Court added to the tome of jurisprudence surrounding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (known as the “TCPA”). While the TCPA generally prohibits robocalls using automatic telephone dialing systems to cell phones and home phones, a 2015 amendment to the TCPA excepted robocalls made to collect debts owed to or guaranteed by the Federal Government. At issue in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants was whether this government-debt exception to the TCPA ran afoul of the First Amendment. In a fractured opinion, six justices agreed to invalidate the exception and seven justices agreed that the appropriate remedy was to sever the exception from the statute.

Plaintiffs in the case were political and nonprofit organizations that sought to make political robocalls to cell phones. Invoking the First Amendment, they argued that the 2015 government-debt exception unconstitutionally favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech. As relief, plaintiffs urged the Court to invalidate the entire robocall restriction rather than simply invalidate the 2015 government-debt exception.

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