High Court Blocks Subpoena Over Sex Ads

     WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court temporarily blocked a congressional subpoena that seeks information on how Backpage.com screens for possible sex trafficking in classifieds advertising.
     The order Tuesday from Chief Justice John Roberts came hours after Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer asked the high court to intervene, saying the case threatens the First Amendment rights of online publishers.
     Backpage just received orders from the D.C. Circuit on Friday to respond to the subpoena within 10 days.
     Tuesday’s stay means that Backpage need not comply with the appeals court order until further action from the Supreme Court. Roberts requested a response from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations by Friday.
     The Senate panel has tried for nearly a year to make Backpage produce certain documents as part of its investigation into human trafficking over the internet.
     After the website refused to comply, the Senate voted 96-0 in March to hold the website in contempt. The vote allowed the Senate to pursue the documents in federal court, marking the first time in more than two decades that the Senate has enforced a subpoena in court.
     A federal judge sided with the Senate last month, rejecting arguments that the subpoena was unconstitutional, overly broad and burdensome. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed 2-1 Friday.
     Senate investigators have said that Backpage is a market leader in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children. Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, says the documents he is seeking will help lawmakers determine what if any businesses practices and policies the company has to prevent criminal activity.
     While Backpage has produced more than 16,000 pages of documents responding to the subpoena, Ferrer said documents relating to the website’s system for reviewing ads are part of the editorial process protected under the First Amendment.
     “This case presents a question of exceptional nationwide importance involving the protection the First Amendment provides to online publishers of third-party content when they engage in core editorial functions,” Ferrer said in a brief filed to Roberts.
     Roberts handles emergency requests from the appeals court in Washington, D.C.

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