- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. granted at least a temporary reprieve Wednesday to one of the country’s largest sex-services websites, saying he wants to take more time to hear arguments in a dispute over whether Backpage.com does enough to stop predators from sex trafficking.

Senate investigators question whether Backpage has a good process in place to weed out illegal ads, and have demanded the company turn over internal documents that would shed light on the issue.

Backpage has resisted, claiming it’s part of the media and deserves First Amendment protections that would shield its decision-making — including what sorts of procedures it uses to screen potentially illegal ads.

Lower courts have rejected those claims, but Chief Justice Roberts said he wants to take some time to consider the arguments. He issued a stay and asked for briefs to be filed.

Backpage says it does what it can to weed out illegal ads, but it does not have a specific policy for how employees are to do that. Instead, employees make their own judgments, the company told the court — adding that it would be burdensome to have to produce emails from each of them.

After hearing extensive arguments, District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled against the company, saying it appeared to be trying to hide its activities. She also rejected Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer’s claims that Backpage’s methods of screening ads are editorial decision-making and protected by the First Amendment.

“The claim of protected ‘editorial policies’ rings hollow,” she wrote in an early August ruling.

She’d given Backpage 10 days to turn over reams of documents, including emails from employees whose job it is to go through the classified ads for adult services, including escorts.

Backpage appealed to the circuit court of appeals in the District of Columbia, which granted a delay while it heard the case — then sided with Judge Collyer.

It’s not clear how long Chief Justice Roberts, and potentially the rest of his colleagues on the high court, might take to decide. He asked for briefs to be filed by the end of this week.

Senators are eager to get a look at the information they could get should they prevail in court.

“Sex trafficking is modern-day slavery, and Backpage should be required to turn over all records pertinent to the Senate’s investigation of how Backpage participates in this criminal industry,” said Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican.

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