U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon issued a temporary restraining order against the state of Tennessee yesterday, preventing them from enforcing a law aimed at websites — specifically Backpage.com — which sell ads that critics say promote child sex trafficking.
The law, known as Tennessee Public Charter 1075, makes it illegal to sell advertisements that “would appear to a reasonable person” to include a “commercial sex act … with a minor.”
Backpage.com sued state attorney general Robert Cooper Jr., claiming that the new law violating the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the First and 14th amendments, and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In issuing the order, Nixon agreed on all counts, writing that Tennessee law “flatly conflicts with federal law.”
“The Constitution tells us that — when freedom of speech hangs in the balance — the state may not use a butcher knife on a problem that requires a scalpel to fix,” Nixon wrote in the order. “Yet, this appears to be what the Tennessee legislature has done in passing the law at issue.”
Nixon notes that the General Assembly passed the law “with no substantive debate and no discussion by legislators,” except for a lone request from a state senator to ask the attorney general to verify the law’s constitutionality.
Nixon’s ruling falls in line with a U.S. District Court of Western Washington ruling that also issued a restraining order against a state law in Backpage.com’s favor. Nixon called the legislation passed in Tennessee a “near-carbon-copy” of an early draft of the Washington legislation.
The two sides presented oral arguments to Nixon in August.
Jim Grant, a Seattle-based attorney for Backpage.com, said he was reviewing the order and wouldn’t comment on the order until after he contacted his client.
A spokeswoman from the state attorney general’s office said they were reviewing the matter.