Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is the lead Republican contender challenging Senator Claire McCaskill (D) for her seat in the 2018 election. But while that race is only beginning to heat up, Hawley is focusing on his current role as the State’s chief law enforcement officer, a role which includes investigating the website Backpage.com for potential violations of Missouri’s consumer protection laws.
Hawley launched his investigation in May, with the ultimate aim of clamping down on human trafficking.
Backpage lists classified ads for everything from cars to real estate. It is the second largest classifieds website after Craigslist.
In January, under government pressure, it suspended its adult ad pages.
Three month earlier, Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested in Houston on charges of trafficking and pimping underage women. Two other men, both shareholders of the company, were charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.
But he determined to take a slightly different tack than other state attorneys general have:
Other states have pursued Backpage via criminal statutes. Hawley has taken a different approach, invoking Missouri’s consumer protection law to go after the company.
In response, Backpage filed suit in July of this year seeking injunctive and declaratory relief and asserting that Hawley’s investigation was in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Yesterday, U.S. Magistrate Patricia Cohen issued a 23 page Order dismissing Backpage’s suit.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia L. Cohen’s 23-page order agreed with Hawley’s lawyers, who cited a 1971 Supreme Court ruling, Younger v. Harris, that says federal courts should abstain from interfering with an ongoing state proceeding.
Hawley responded to the Court’s ruling earlier today:
“I am glad the court rejected this meritless lawsuit,” Hawley said. “My office is now able to move beyond legal sidestepping and focus on what matters–fighting to eradicate this terrible crime in Missouri.
Ironically, this is one issue on which Hawley and his opponent for the Senate seat appear to be on the same page. McCaskill is one of five Congress members, including fellow Missourian Ann Wagner (R), who have been pushing for a federal criminal investigation into Backpage.com. Hopefully, with the ruling issued yesterday, the State’s investigation will proceed apace.