Political robocalls may be an irritating feature of modern campaigning, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve protection under the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled. A decision handed down Wednesday in Arkansas federal court struck down a state law passed 35 years ago that banned political robocalls. The statute restricted commercial robocalling and also made it unlawful to solicit information “in connection with a political campaign” using an automated phone system for dialing numbers and playing recorded messages. The restriction was challenged by a Virginia-based communications firm, Conquest Communications Group, which sought “to conduct automated telephone calls in the state, including surveys, messages concerning voting, express advocacy calls, and a variety of other calls made in connection with political campaigns.”
The company’s president alleged in a federal lawsuit brought in May that his firm has “been chilled and restrained from performing services for political clients in Arkansas” in violation of the First Amendment.
To pass constitutional muster, lawyers representing Arkansas needed to show that the speech restriction advanced a compelling government interest and did so in the least censorial way.
The state attorney general’s office defended the robocall prohibition as a justifiable effort to respect people’s privacy interests and protect them from unwanted intrusions into their homes. They also argued that the law prevented “the seizure of phone lines, which could interfere with emergency calls being placed or received.”