Federal Judge Nixes Wyoming Law Banning Political Robocalls

By: - August 9, 2018 12:00 am

A cellphone displays a list of incoming calls, including “robocalls” automatically made by companies. A federal judge threw out a Wyoming law designed to prevent political firms from making the calls. John Raoux/The Associated Press

Political “robocalls” — which, like commercial calls, increasingly target consumers’ phones — may be annoying, but a Wyoming law to prohibit political operatives from using them is overly broad and unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson ruled that a Michigan-based polling firm, Victory Processing LLC, should be allowed to gather information on voters and do polls in Wyoming by way of automatic telephone calls.

Johnson said the Wyoming law banning political robocalls was “overinclusive” in that it “completely prohibits political speech through robocalls while allowing commercial speech under certain circumstances.”

Wyoming allows commercial robocalling if the recipient agrees to them, has not put his or her number on a “do not call” list, or has a business relationship with the caller. The Wyoming law banning political robocalls did not include similar exceptions.

Johnson’s ruling rejected Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael’s arguments that scrapping the law would violate the privacy of state residents. Johnson acknowledged that “tranquility, well-being and peacefulness” in a home is important, but he wrote the law was so restrictive that it put political firms at a disadvantage.

Robocalls jumped dramatically nationwide this year, from 2.9 billion in January to 4.1 billion in June, according to YouMail Inc., a company that tracks robocalls and sells software to block them.

Many states have passed laws banning the robocalls, with the exceptions listed above, but cracking down on illegal robocalls is proving difficult for states because of the combined hurdles of technology, economics and geography, state attorneys general say. The cost of making a call is very low, making them by way of automated systems is very easy, and many emanate from foreign countries.

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.