Tom Dart is the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, duly elected by citizens living and dead. He decided last year that he didn’t care for Backpage.com, which inherited adult-oriented online classified ads when Craigslist couldn’t take the heat.
So Sheriff Cook, rather than waste manpower trying to uncover victimless crimes, went after Visa and MasterCard with threatening letters, telling the payment processors they must sever ties with Backpage.com or be considered in cahoots with sex traffickers and money launderers.
Visa and MasterCard caved. Backpage.com sued in federal court and was rebuffed. The story changed at the appeals level, where Judge Richard Posner ordered up the following injunction:
“Sheriff Dart, his office, and all employees, agents, or others who are acting or have acted for or on behalf of him, shall take no actions, formal or informal, to coerce or threaten credit card companies, processors, financial institutions, or other third parties with sanctions intended to ban credit card or other financial services from being provided to Backpage.com.”
Of course, that run-on sentence isn’t going to deter the sheriff or certain politicians from continuing their quest to starve Backpage.com off the Internet.
Complicating the situation, Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer did not appear after being subpoenaed by a Senate subcommittee charged with investigating human trafficking. Ohio Senator Rob Portman has threatened to refer the case to the Justice Department for possible criminal contempt charges.
Mr. Ferrer’s lawyers said he was out of the country and would have just invoked the Fifth Amendment anyway. (That’s one of the handful of amendments federal judges haven’t been able to totally shred.)
Closing on the subject of contempt of Congress: If the level goes much higher, torches and pitchforks will be involved.