By State Sen. Ken Chlouber
It took the courts a while, but they finally got it right and upheld one of the most popular laws ever adopted in this country – the federal no-call registry. Virtually everyone who has a telephone knows the anguish of sitting down to an evening meal only to hear the phone ring off the hook with telemarketers. To stop this nuisance and bothersome invasion of privacy, millions of Americans quickly signed up for the popular no-call list.
However, a U.S. District Court judge struck down the law in September, before the registry could be implemented Oct. 1. The court argued that the federal law violates the First Amendment right to free speech because it discriminates against certain types of speech. While the decision was on appeal, states across the country watched the proceedings with keen interest, fearing their own state lists might be struck down. Those fears look like they are now put to rest. I, along with millions of Americans, was pleased that the law was recently upheld by an appellate court.
As the sponsor of Colorado’s no-call law, which passed the Colorado General Assembly in 2001, I’m well aware of the tremendous amount of public support for the registry. Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and I went to great lengths to make sure Colorado’s no-call list would stand up to constitutional muster, and this most recent decision only reaffirms our position.
About 50 million Americans have signed up for the federal do-no-call registry, while Coloradans alone have registered 1.1 million phone numbers on the state list.
The federal law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush is very similar to the Colorado law. It gives consumers the option of registering their phone numbers on a do-not-call registry, and telemarketers are banned from calling those numbers. Like the state law, the federal list exempts political and nonprofit organizations, and therein was the problem according to the courts.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court has historically protected speech to varying degrees, always giving political speech the highest level of protection. Commercial speech has always been the least protected, with speech rights for nonprofits somewhere in the middle.
Telemarketers claimed that the call ban was “unconstitutionally underinclusive” because it excluded charitable and political callers. Believe me, I would have liked nothing more than to see government ban all calls. In fact, I originally considered including nonprofit and political organizations in the telemarketing ban in the original bill in 2001. However, the lawyers working with me on the bill advised me that if political and nonprofit organizations were included, the bill would likely be overturned in court. Their advice proved to be sound, as we now have a constitutional law on the books.
I take this issue personally. These nuisance calls are just like someone walking into my living room uninvited. Citizens should have every right to say, “I don’t want to be called.” That is the most basic reason these registries make sense. These millions of people are affirming that they don’t want to be hassled, and do not want their privacy invaded. I feel that my job as an elected official, working on your behalf, is to make it a better Colorado. This law does that, and I will continue to defend this law.
Needless to say, I am very pleased that the no-call list was upheld by the appellate court. More importantly, that joy is felt by millions of Americans on the list who can enjoy peaceful evenings at home without intrusive and unwanted phone calls.
Senator Ken Chlouber, R-Leadville, represents Senate District 4, which includes Lake, Douglas, Teller, El Paso and Park Counties. Chlouber serves as the Senate President Pro Tem and serves on the Senate Agriculture, Transportation and Appropriations Committees. His address during the session is State Capitol, Room 259, 200 East Colfax, Denver CO, 80203.