Supreme Court Prohibits Mobile Phone Robocalls To Collect Federal Debt

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a 2015 law allowing federal debt collectors to make robocalls violates the Constitution. That’s because those debt collectors were allowed to make automated calls while other groups weren’t given the same treatment.

Congress generally 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 generally been 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.

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The Supreme Court challenge was brought by political advocacy groups who didn’t think it was fair that only those debt collectors could make robocalls to cellphones. The groups, including the American Association of Political Consultants, wanted to make robocalls to discuss candidates and issues, solicit donations, and encourage voter participation. So they tried to argue that the entire robocall ban was invalid, a suppression of otherwise permissible speech.

The court allowed the general robocall ban to stand. But the 2015 exception for debt collectors was a violation of the First Amendment, the court said.

“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, saying they thought the government had justified special treatment for federal debt collectors. “The speech-related harm at issue here — and any related effect on the marketplace of ideas — is modest,” Breyer wrote for the dissenters.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai commended the court’s ruling. “Thanks to the Supreme Court, the carve-out is no more,” he said in a statement. “Today, the Court found that the last Administration’s attempt to create a special exemption for favored debt collectors was not only bad policy but unconstitutional. I am glad to hear that Americans, who are sick and tired of unwanted robocalls, will now get the relief from federal-debt-collector robocalls they have long deserved.”

August 1, 2019

The Federal Communications Commission took another step on Thursday in the ongoing battle to end the scourge of robocalls Americans receive. It would bar spoofed calls from overseas scammers.

Your phone company may start blocking robocalls without your needing to ask for it.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission passed a ruling that allows and encourages phone companies to block robocalls by default.

“We think these actions will help consumers in the near term and the long term to get the peace and the quiet that they deserve,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

At the moment many phone companies offer services that block robocalls, but consumers have to specifically ask and often pay for it. The ruling requires companies to inform consumers of the change and give them an option to opt out of having their calls blocked…


The spam calls keep coming, offering you loans or threatening you with jail time for IRS violations. By some estimates, they make up at least a quarter of all calls in the United States.

And as the problem continues to grow, it creates a whole new set of related nuisances for people like Dakota Hill.

He estimates he gets hundreds of unwanted spam calls every month. But Hill says he also gets calls from people who think he’s spamming them.


Robocalls at any time of the day or night are becoming increasingly common. Some in the federal government are working on solutions, but they have to overcome technology and interest-group objections….


May 10, 2018

If you live in a part of the country that has a large Chinese immigrant population, you may have recently received a robocall in Mandarin — or even several of them. The calls seem to be blanketing certain phone exchanges without regard to the national origin of the recipients. Presumably, this is how the New York Police Department ended up on the call list.

NYPD Officer Donald McCaffrey, who works in the Queens grand larceny division, is investigating the calls in New York City. He has also been receiving them on a daily basis…

March 13, 2018

Last Tuesday, the Internal Revenue Service said people were being being bilked out of money by criminals pretending to be from the tax collection agency. Two days later, I received a phone call that my provider said was probably spam. They left a message saying they were from the IRS and I was in big trouble.

“(After 24 hours), you will be taken into custody by the local cops as there are four serious allegations pressed against your name at this moment,” said the automated voice in broken English…

January 11, 2018

A fatal police shooting in Kansas late last month focused attention again on how so-called swatting — prank 911 calls designed to get SWAT teams to deploy — puts lives at risk and burdens police departments.

There are more than 7,000 911 centers in the U.S. and, according to the National Emergency Number Association, they receive about 600,000 calls a day. Authorities don’t track swatting calls nationally, though the FBI has been monitoring the practice of those types of fake calls for about a decade…

September 4, 2017

Fraud is the latest threat facing victims of Hurricane Harvey, as well as the volunteers who are helping the relief effort. NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with Corey Amundson, a U.S. Attorney who heads the National Center for Disaster Fraud…

June 22, 2017

Federal regulators on Thursday said they’ve identified “the perpetrator of one of the largest … illegal robocalling campaigns” they have ever investigated.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $120 million fine for a Miami resident said to be single-handedly responsible for almost 97 million robocalls over just the last three months of 2016…