Federal Judge Allows Political Robocalls In Wyoming
A Michigan company will be allowed to make unsolicited, automatic political phone calls -- known as robocalls -- to Wyoming residents after a federal judge ruled unconstitutional the state's law about them, according to court records.
U.S. District Court Alan Johnson on Monday sided with Victory Processing, LLC, after the company filed its lawsuit against Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael in July 2017.
"The provisions of the Robocall Ban, on their face, unconstitutionally chill the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution," according to the civil rights lawsuit filed by Dave Dishaw and Victory Processing through their attorneys Blake Johnson and Katherine Spohn of the Bruning Law Group in Lincoln, Neb., and former Wyoming Attorney General Patrick Crank of Cheyenne.
Johnson didn't rule on the messages in robocalls themselves, when he granted Victory Processing its motion for summary judgment to rule in its favor.
Instead, he focused on what categories of speech are affected by the state law.
The Wyoming Attorney General asserted the law in question is "content-neutral," meaning it meaning it applies to all categories of speech.
On the other hand, Victory Processing asserted the law is "content-based," meaning it applies only to particular categories of speech based upon the topic or the idea of the message.
Johnson ruled Victory Processing is right and the law is unconstitutional.
"(The law) is over inclusive in that it completely prohibits political speech through robocalls while allowing commercial speech under circumstances," Johnson wrote. "Accordingly, (the law) is not (to) be narrowly tailored. The Court concludes (the law) is a content-based restriction which does not pass strict scrutiny."
During the 2016 election cycle, Victory Processing and Dishaw claimed prospective clients asked them to develop political messages for Wyoming voters, but the robocall ban wouldn't let them.
The ban is listed in the state law about "disturbances of the public order" including fighting in public, breaching the peace, using a telephone to harass or threaten someone, and unlawful protesting at funerals.
Specifically, "No person shall use an automated telephone system or device for the selection and dialing of telephone numbers and playing of recorded messages if a message is completed to the dialed number."
Prohibited uses include offering goods or services for sale; conveying information on goods or services in soliciting sales or purchases; soliciting information; gathering data; and "promoting or any other use related to a political campaign."
A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a jail term of up to six months, a fine up to $750, or both.
But this ban, according to Victory Process and Dishaw, strikes at the heart of free political speech. They cite a 1989 federal lawsuit in which a party says, "'The First Amendment has its fullest and most urgent application to speech uttered during a campaign for political office.'"
Michael responded that Wyoming's robocall bans are similar to those in Minnesota and Indiana that ball all robocalls and then make exceptions to the total ban.
But Johnson wrote that Wyoming's law is similar to Montana's law -- also ruled unconstitutional in federal court -- in that they recognize distinct categories of speech and ban robocalls containing messages in those categories.