Supreme Court Rules for Portman and McCaskill, Against

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 13, 2016
MEDIA CONTACTS: Kevin Smith (Portman) | 202-224-5190

John LaBombard (McCaskill) | 202-228-6263

Supreme Court Rules for Portman and McCaskill, Against

Backpage Must Now Comply with Senate Subpoena in Online Sex Trafficking Investigation, Turn Over Documents 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), announced that the U.S. Supreme Court denied Backpage’s request to stay their landmark victory in their contempt action against and its CEO, Carl Ferrer.  As a result, Backpage must now turn over all documents under subpoena to PSI.  This case marks the first time in more than 20 years that the Senate has enforced a subpoena in court. 

Today’s decision is a major victory in our efforts to protect women and children from the evils of online sex trafficking,” Senator Portman said. “Instead of working with us to help protect the innocent victims of sex trafficking all across the United States, Backpage has instead fought our efforts at every step of the way while the problem of online sex trafficking gets worse, not better.  We look forward to reviewing the subpoenaed documents that Backpage has unlawfully tried, for 11 months, to withhold from Congress.  We will continue our bipartisan investigation and our work to ensure that our laws effectively protect the most vulnerable from those who commit and facilitate this reprehensible crimes.” 

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a real victory—Backpage has no more legal options to avoid turning over subpoenaed documents in our investigation into online sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children,” said Senator McCaskill.  “I’m looking forward to reviewing the documents as soon as possible to get to the bottom of whether this company has business practices and policies to prevent criminal activity on its site.” 

NOTE: The Subcommittee began its bipartisan investigation of human trafficking on the Internet in April 2015. With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, 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. After Backpage refused to comply with a subpoena issued by Portman and McCaskill, the Senate passed a civil contempt resolution by a vote of 96-0 to authorize a lawsuit against Backpage. 

On August 5, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer ordered Ferrer to comply with the subpoena and hand over documents within 10 days. Judge Collyer’s opinion called Backpage’s refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena “untenable and without legal support,” and concluded that “[u]nderstanding the magnitude of Internet sex trafficking and how to stop it substantially outweighs Mr. Ferrer’s undefined interests.”  Backpage asked the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to stay Judge Collyer’s order, but the court denied that motion.  Backpage then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay Judge Collyer’s order, but the Supreme Court denied that motion today. 

On November 19, 2015, the Subcommittee issued an extensive staff report about Backpage’s conduct and a held a hearing at which Ferrer refused to appear.