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Federal Judge Upholds Montana Ban On Robocalls

Jackie Yamanaka

A U.S. District Judge upheld a Montana law banning most robocalls.  State Attorney General Tim Fox hopes the ruling will deter those businesses that want to target Montanans with targeted political messages each election cycle.

Deter because in some cases it’s hard to know who is behind these automated phone calls, says spokesman Eric Sell.  

Still he says these calls are illegal in Montana. He says people might be able to get information about the caller, especially if they mention a candidate or an issue. Sell says people who receive these types of calls can report them to the Office of Consumer Protection.

“We do have the ability to go to the company that issued those numbers and have those numbers turned off because they are being used for an illegal activity,” he says. “But to get to the organization or individuals behind those calls is very, very difficult.” 

The case before U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell was a challenge to a law passed by the 1991 Montana Legislature. A Michigan-based political consulting firm,Victory Processing LLC, challenged the Montana ban against automated telephone calls, also known as robocalls.  The company argued the Montana law violated their right to free speech.

Lovell said the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled individuals are not required to welcome unwanted speech into their homes and the government may protect that freedom.

In his ruling, Lovell wrote, “Political speech is precious under the First Amendment. The prohibition here of the promotion of a political campaign must meet a high bar to survive this challenge.” He says the Montana statute exempts the ban if a live operator first seeks permission of the called party to listen to the recorded message.

“The governmental interest advanced by the statute is the compelling interest in protecting residential privacy and transparency,” he wrote.

“We’re really pleased with today’s ruling that upholds the will of the people and keeps robocalls illegal in the State of Montana,” says Sell.

The challenge to the Montana law was filed in February 2017.