Nov 30 A federal appeals court on Monday ordered an injunction blocking the Cook County, Illinois, sheriff from pursuing any effort to stop credit card companies from handling transactions for Backpage.com, a classified ad website that the sheriff said promotes sex trafficking.800 arrests from lurking on an internet web site looking for sex workers.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said Sheriff Thomas Dart, whose jurisdiction includes Chicago, violated Backpage's First Amendment free speech rights by demanding that companies such as MasterCard Inc and Visa Inc ban the use of their cards to buy ads on the website.
Writing for a three-judge panel, Circuit Judge Richard Posner said Dart's "official bullying" and "campaign of suffocation" amounted to censorship, preventing even transactions for ads touting "indisputably legal" activities from being processed.
"As a citizen or father, or in any other private capacity, Sheriff Dart can denounce Backpage to his heart's content. He is in good company; many people are disturbed or revolted by the kind of sex ads found on Backpage's website," Posner wrote.
But as sheriff of a county with more than 5.2 million people, Dart cannot make "dire threats," including of possible prosecution, in a campaign "to crush Backpage's adult section - crush Backpage, period, it seems," the judge added.
The injunction bars Dart from coercing or threatening sanctions against card companies, processors and financial companies that do business with Backpage.com, while the company pursues its lawsuit to stop his campaign.
In August, U.S. District Judge John Tharp had rejected Backpage.com's bid for a preliminary injunction.
Posner said that was a mistake because Backpage.com would probably succeed on the merits, and suffered "irreparable injury" from its loss of First Amendment freedoms.
Dart's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His office has said it has made more than 800 arrests since 2009 connected to Backpage.com ads.
How about policing those gun shops in Cook County, just over the border from Chicago who are selling to any sort of skeevy straw buyers with two nickels to rub together instead of pursuing some masseuses giving tug jobs?
I hope that Backpage.com takes him to the cleaners in a civil suit.
I also would like to see the Department of Justice go after Sheriff Dart for criminal conspiracy to deprive Backpage.com of its civil rights, but I don't expect to see that happen.
It should happen, but it won't.