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SC Robocall Update




|| By FITSNEWS || Yesterday this website reported on a major development in First Amendment jurisprudence – one with far-reaching implications on South Carolina politics (and the Palmetto State’s “First in the South” presidential primaries).

It involves a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision – one affirming a lower court ruling that struck down South Carolina’s 1991 ban on political robocalls (or “automatically dialed announcing devices,” a.k.a. “ADADs”).

From our report …

… the Fourth Circuit ruling upholds a 2014 decision reached by U.S. District Court judge Michelle Childs – which found the South Carolina law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against political speech.

“The statute is fatal for its underinclusiveness and its singling out of commercial and political speech,” Childs ruled.

The Fourth Circuit (.pdf here) agreed, concluding that South Carolina’s anti-robocall statute “is a content-based regulation that does not survive strict scrutiny.”

Translation?  The First Amendment wins – state government’s attempt to suppress political speech loses.

Another winner?  Robert Cahaly, the Palmetto political consultant who was arrested in 2010 for allegedly violating this unconstitutional statute (even though he got an attorney general’s opinion authorizing the sort of calls he made).  The charges against Cahaly were dropped two years ago due to “constitutional issues with First Amendment rights,” but he pressed forward with a suit against the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and its former director Reggie Lloyd anyway – not for money, but to clear his name and to make sure others weren’t unfairly prosecuted under the same bogus law.

In a message posted to his Facebook page, Cahaly is addressing the ruling for the first time.

Here’s his statement …

I’m gratified to be part of a free speech ‘victory.’ When we filed this lawsuit nearly two and half years ago, we made it clear it wasn’t about money as we weren’t asking for punitive or even actual damages. The suit we brought to federal court was about setting the record straight and making sure that I would be the last victim of this flawed, easily misinterpreted, and unconstitutional law.

While it would have been easy to pay the small fine associated with these misdemeanor charges and move on, doing what’s right is rarely easy or inexpensive, but in the end it’s always worth it. Most of us who work in politics started doing so because we’re patriotic and wanted to make our country a better place. I could have become jaded and disenchanted after being arrested, but I had to ask myself a simple question. If I’m not willing to stand up for free speech, the bill of rights, and the Constitution itself, what credibility do I have when I ask candidates or elected officials to do the same?

It’s also worth noting that my case and its outcome related to a political and personal vendetta of the former SLED chief and should not be seen as a reflection on the dedicated professionals who currently lead or work at the State Law Enforcement Division.

Oh, and as we expected the story is getting national attention now … with reporter Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast assessing the implications of the Fourth Circuit’s ruling.

According to Woodruff, the decision means the 2016 presidential primary in South Carolina “is likely to become much, much messier.”

“The Palmetto State is now a phone-call free-for-all,” she wrote.  “In fact, due to another law being struck down in 2010, outside groups supporting a political candidate or cause don’t even need to disclose who is paying for the call.”

Indeed … and the impact of these calls is even more pronounced in the Palmetto State given the sheer number of old timers (who still use land lines) comprising the state’s electorate.