WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted on Thursday to hold the classified advertising website Backpage.com in civil contempt for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena into how it screens ads for possible sex trafficking.
The vote was 96-0. It marks mark the first time in two decades the chamber has voted to hold someone in contempt.
Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sponsored the resolution after they said the company refused to comply with a subpoena last year. Holding the company in contempt would allow the Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee to go to court to try to force Backpage.com to turn over documents about its screening practices.
"Backpage has refused to cooperate," said McCaskill, who returned to the Senate this week after three weeks of treatment for breast cancer. "Today is the day we say enough."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the investigation by Portman and McCaskill — members of the committee — "has revealed how trafficking has flourished in the age of the Internet. It's also revealed how many cases of sex-trafficking — including cases involving children — have been linked to one website in particular: Backpage.com."
Last month, a lawyer for Backpage.com said the company does not believe Congress can compel an online publisher of third-party advertisements to produce the documents under the First Amendment.
Backpage.com "looks forward to a proper consideration of these important First Amendment constitutional issues by the judiciary — the branch of government charged with protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans," Steven Ross said.