Arkansas’ ban on political robocalls challenged

As political organizations prepare for election season, a Virginia political consultant is challenging the constitutionality of Arkansas’ ban on political robocalls.  The state law prohibits the use of robocalls for soliciting information, gathering data, or for any purpose in connection with a political campaign.

Victor Gresham and his company Conquest Communications, Inc. filed the lawsuit against the Arkansas Attorney General and argue that the law unconstitutionally “prohibits political speech that is at the core of the First Amendment.”  The lawsuit cites a 2011 advisory opinion by the previous attorney general that noted the ban on political robocalls is “highly constitutionally suspect under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

The lawsuit does not challenge the state ban on commercial robocalls, but argues that political speech is fully-protected and the state must pass the “strict scrutiny” test by demonstrating the law is narrowly tailored to further a “compelling” state interest which it is entitled to protect using the least restrictive means available.

The state contends the law protects Arkansans’ privacy by preventing unwanted intrusions into their homes and protects their residential telephone lines from “seizure” by robots.  The state further maintains the law does not prevent the plaintiffs from using other avenues to engage in political speech and disseminate political messages.

Arkansas is currently the only state that completely bans political robocalls regardless of whether the caller has an existing business relationship or express consent from the recipient.

U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes heard oral arguments from both parties on June 23, 2016 and will likely decide the outcome in the coming months.  The case is 16-cv-00241-JLH in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.