President Bush’s signature and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ensured that the popular do-not-call registry to block unsolicited telemarketing calls will go into effect tomorrow.
“Given a choice, Americans prefer not to receive random sales pitches at all hours of the day, and the American people should be free to restrict these calls,” the president said during a brief signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
With the stroke of a pen, he ended one front of a legal battle that began last week.
Telemarketers criticized the president for signing the bill.
“Clearly the president, since his popularity rating has tumbled below 50 percent, is seeking to re-energize his domestic policy,” said Tim Searcy, executive director of the American Teleservices Association, which represents about 600 telemarketing firms.
On Friday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied request by telemarketers to block the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing the do-not-call list.
Telemarketers yesterday filed an emergency application for a stay, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision. The Supreme Court refused.
U.S. District Judge Lee R. West last week invalidated the do-not-call registry, saying the Federal Trade Commission didn’t have authority to create it. Congress swiftly passed legislation giving regulatory authority to the agency.
The president’s signing of the bill effectively overturned Judge West’s decision.
Even before that, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said his agency planned to enforce the rules.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Edward W. Nottingham ruled that the registry violated the First Amendment because it banned telemarketing calls from businesses, but not calls from charities or politicians.
An Appeals Court in Denver refused to prohibit the FCC from enforcing telemarketing rules, and the Supreme Court backed that decision, giving the federal government approval to move forward.
“We’re happy the courts ruled the way they did, and we’re looking forward to getting into the business of making sure American consumers have the protection they want and need,” said Dane Snowden, chief of the FCC’s Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau.
Consumers have added 50.6 million phone numbers to the do-not-call list since June. Starting tomorrow, telemarketers are prohibited from calling those numbers. They face fines of up to $120,000 for each offense.
The consumer-protection measure could block up to 80 percent of unsolicited telemarketing calls, federal regulators say.
“I think what’s been unusual is the way Congress stepped in,” said Stefan Lopatkiewicz, a telecommunications lawyer in the District. “That showed unusual political interest in the issue.”
Judge Nottingham was scheduled to hold a hearing in Denver yesterday to decide whether he should allow the list to take effect pending an appeal by the FTC.
The president was unmoved.
“The do-not-call registry is still being challenged in court. Yet the conclusion of the American people and the legislative branch and the executive branch is beyond question,” Mr. Bush said.