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Judge won't allow auto-dialer statute enforcement during appeal

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Balancing free speech rights with the public interest in preventing automated political calls from out-of-state entities, U.S. Judge William Lawrence in Indianapolis denied the state’s request to continue enforcing Indiana’s auto-dialer statute while a higher court is considering his ruling from two months ago that blocked enforcement.

The Southern District of Indiana judge issued a three-page ruling Tuesday, denying a motion to stay while the underlying case – Patriotic Veterans v. State of Indiana, No. 1:10-CV-723 – is on appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Filed in June 2010, this case involves an Illinois-based nonprofit that sued Indiana on claims that a state law violates the group’s First Amendment rights by not allowing it to make political calls leading up to elections. Patriotic Veterans claimed the Indiana law is preempted by the similar but more lenient federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Unlike the state statute banning all pre-recorded telemarketing calls unless the consumer has given consent, the federal law makes exceptions for nonprofit groups, telephone carriers and politicians.

Lawrence ruled Sept. 27 that the 1986 state statute is preempted by the federal law and cannot be enforced. In footnotes, the judge wrote that he has limited his decision to the preemption issue and is not addressing the First Amendment claims, and that he’s declining to enter a broader injunction that would apply to more than political messages even though the court’s ruling could support that.

After filing an appeal in early October, the state asked Lawrence to stay the injunction while the appeal is active. But the judge found the state’s arguments fell short as to why the injunction should be lifted and the calls should be prevented. He wrote that the state’s reliance on the successful Do No Call Law is misplaced and doesn’t prove that Indiana residents would not want automated calls on political issues.

“Absent the injunction, the Plaintiff would be prohibited from making automated calls to Indiana citizens expressing political views during the upcoming election season,” Lawrence wrote. “The Court finds that this lost opportunity to use an economical and efficient means to engage in the political process would constitute substantial injury to the Plaintiff and others. Given this balance of potential harm, the Court determines that even if it is assumed that the Defendants have shown a likelihood of success on the merits, they are nonetheless not entitled to the extraordinary remedy of a stay pending appeal.”

The appeal is pending before the 7th Circuit and the federal court docket shows briefing is set to conclude by the end of December.

 

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