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Politics & Money

Supreme Court: Robocall ban “should remain in place”

Proposed exception to the ban was deemed unconstitutional under the First Amendment

Lenders attempting to reach borrowers in arrears will still be limited in the use of robocalls thanks to the actions of the Supreme Court on Monday, where they upheld a federal ban on the non-emergency auto-dialed calls to cell phones.

CNN reported the news this morning, which also affects political consultants seeking to use such calls for campaign ads and other communications.

Today’s decision apparently divided the court. But in the end, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that an exception to the ban created by Congress was “unconstitutional under the First Amendment — and that the overall ban should remain in place,” according to CNN.

“Americans passionately disagree about many things. But they are largely united in their disdain for robocalls,” Kavanaugh wrote, as cited by CNN. “The Federal Government receives a staggering number of complaints about robocalls … The States likewise field a constant barrage of complaints.”

The decision is particularly relevant considering the number of mortgages in forbearance amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 26, there were 4.68 million homeowners with forbearance plans, meaning their mortgage payments were temporarily suspended, up 79,000 from the prior week, according to a report issued by Black Knight. The total represented 8.8% of all active mortgages, up from 8.7%, Black Knight said.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits non-emergency auto-dialed calls to cell phones unless made “with the prior express consent of the called party.” Congress relaxed the ban on cellphone robocallers in 2015. That amendment to the TCPA allowed robocalls that are made to collect debts owed to, or guaranteed by, the federal government. As such, today, unsolicited calls are permitted if they are “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” 

Or, as the Supreme Court puts it: “Private lenders and debt collectors are free to send in the robots too, so long as the debt at issue is ultimately guaranteed by the government.”

However, in early June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco issued a ruling making it harder for lenders to contact borrowers in arrears. The TPCA ruling by the appeals court blocked some debt calls, meaning that someone with a new cell number can’t be bothered by robocalls intended for the prior holder of that number.

That makes life a bit easier for people who have new cell numbers previously held by someone with overdue loan payments, as HousingWire reported at that time.

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