The US Supreme Court says the online ads portal Backpage.com will have to comply with a subpoena and produce documents as part of the Senate’s investigation into sex ads and human trafficking.
The development comes days after Chief Justice John Roberts had temporarily blocked an appellate decision ordering Backpage to comply with the investigation that demands information about the site’s editorial practices as they relate to reviewing ads posted by third parties. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations maintains that the site is a launchpad for the exploitation of children.
The eight-member high court did not comment about why it lifted its stay (PDF) other than to say that Justice Samuel Alito did not participate.
“We look forward to reviewing the subpoenaed documents that Backpage has unlawfully tried 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 these reprehensible crimes,” said subcommittee co-chair Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio. He said the high court’s decision “is a major victory in our efforts to protect women and children from the evils of online sex trafficking.”
Backpage argued that it had a constitutional right to withhold documents.
“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,” Backpage told the Supreme Court.
A Senate investigation said it found “substantial evidence that Backpage edits the content of some ads, including deleting words and images, before publication. The record indicates that in some cases, these deletions likely served to …