U.S. Justices Won't Block Subpoena for Backpage.com

Sep 13, 2016 3:12 PM PST

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to block a congressional subpoena seeking information on how Backpage.com screens ads for sexual services.

The court’s action means Backpage will have to turn over documents that a Senate panel has been pursuing for more than a year.

The company's process for reviewing ads on its adult section, Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer argued, is a "core editorial function" protected under the First Amendment.

The internet company, which reportedly has $150 million in annual revenue, refused to hand over subpoenaed documents.

Some lawmakers said documents outlining Backpage’s processes would help determine what if any business practices and policies the company has to prevent criminal activity.

Congressional investigators, meanwhile, concluded Backpage is a market leader in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of human trafficking.

When Backpage refused to comply to hand over documents over its processes, the Senate voted 96-0 in March to hold the site in contempt and took the issue to federal court.

U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that the committee's interests in combatting sex trafficking were compelling and the impact on Backpage’s First Amendment rights was "so slight."

Later, after Collyer made her decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed rejection of Backpage’s arguments that the subpoena violated its First Amendment rights.

Backpage had 10 days to comply with the subpoena, but the Supreme Court’s chief justice, John Roberts, put the subpoena on hold last week, allowing the full court time to consider the case.

After receiving briefs from both parties, the Supreme Court, 7-0, rejected Backpage's application Tuesday.

Justice Samuel Alito recused himself from considering the case because his son works as a staff counsel for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who heads the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is probing Facebook.   

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