TERRE HAUTE, Ind. The Indiana Supreme Court says the state can go forward with lawsuits against companies that use autodialing machines to make prerecorded telephone calls in political races.
The court ruled 5-0 yesterday to overturn a trial court's decision to dismiss a state lawsuit against American Family Voices. At issue was whether the state's 1988 law banning so-called "robo-calls" covers political calls as well as commercial and sales calls.
Attorney General Steve Carter said the court ruling would protect Indiana residents from unwanted and illegal telephone calls.
"We aren't giving any free passes to politicians who pummel Indiana with robo calls," Carter said.
Carter's office filed suit against the Washington, D.C., group in 2006 after it made calls criticizing Republican Mike Sodrel during his race against Democrat Baron Hill for southern Indiana's 9th congressional district seat.
American Family Voices claimed Indiana's telemarketing law was clearly intended to regulate only commercial speech which tries to solicit the purchase of goods or services.
The state Republican and Democratic parties, while not named in the lawsuit, filed a joint brief with the state Supreme Court, saying that automated calls used for political messages are protected free speech.
But the state Supreme Court said in State of Indiana v. American Family Voices, Inc. that "the law applies to all autodialer calls, not just consumer transaction calls with commercial messages."
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment with American Family Voices and the state Democratic Party. The Indiana Republican Party said it would have no immediate comment.
Campaigns and special-interest groups use robo-calls for purposes such as reminding voters to go to the polls, delivering endorsements or criticizing opponents. They are far cheaper than calls made by volunteers or paid personnel.
More than a dozen states have placed limits or bans on political robo-calls, according to Stateline.org, a project of the Pew Center on the States that tracks state legislation.