On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled (PDF) that Arkansas could not prohibit companies from making political robocalls to residences. The calls, he ruled, are protected by the First Amendment despite Arkansas’ Secretary of State arguing that forbidding such calls protect citizens’ privacy and safety.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit was filed by a Virginia-based communications company called Conquest Communications, whose clients hired it to automatically call residents in Arkansas and ask them to participate in surveys that urge folks to vote. The robocalls also included “advocacy calls and a variety of other calls made in connection with political campaigns.”
Thirty-five years ago, Arkansas enacted a law that prohibited automatic pre-recorded voice calling for the purposes of “soliciting information, gathering data, or for any other purpose in connection with a political campaign…” as well as standard prohibitions on selling goods or services via robocall.
The Federal Trade Commission maintains a Do Not Call registry from which political calls are exempt, and US law forbidding robocalls exempts those that are not for a commercial purpose.
The judge in this case examined Arkansas’ law against political robocalls as “a content-based restriction on speech,” writing that the state had to prove that those restrictions served “a compelling state interest” and that they were “narrowly tailored to serve that interest.”
Arkansas’ Attorney General argued that banning political robocalls protected citizens’ right to privacy and kept them from unwanted intrusions in their homes. The state’s lawyer also argued that forbidding robocalls prevented “the seizure of phone lines, which could interfere with emergency calls being placed or received.”
According to the judge’s order, Arkansas’ defense did “not survive strict scrutiny” because it too …