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7th Circuit Upholds Ban on Robocalls

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 06, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's not easy being a machine. Put another way, robots do not have free speech rights. Or in other words, you can't use robocalls to convey political messages. Or perhaps even better said, as a federal appeals court said after listening to arguments that a ban on robocalls discriminated against political speech:

"We don't get it," the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said. "Nothing in the statute ... disfavors political speech."

You Don't Say

Upholding Indiana's statute against robocalls, the appeals court said the state has a legitimate interest in protecting people from annoying robotic phone calls. It doesn't matter whether they are phone calls about politics, religion, or Girl Scout cookies.

"No one can deny the legitimacy of the state's goal: Preventing the phone (at home or in one's pocket) from frequently ringing with unwanted calls," the judges said. "Every call uses some of the phone owner's time and mental energy, both of which are precious."

Plaintiffs sued to invalidate Indiana Code §24-5-14-5 after South Carolina's robocall law was overturned. But the Seventh Circuit followed the Eighth and Ninth Circuits in upholding bans on computer-assisted calls.

Yes, You May

Indiana's ban does not unreasonably restrict speech because there are other avenues for disseminating information. The court said: "Everyone has plenty of ways to spread messages: TV, newspapers and magazines (including ads), websites, social media (Facebook, Twitter, and the like), calls from live persons, and even recorded spiels if a live operator first secures consent."

"Preventing automated messages to persons who don't want their peace and quiet disturbed is a valid time, place, and manner restriction," the panel said.

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