craigslist has filed suit against SC AG Henry McMaster in federal court in South Carolina, seeking declaratory relief and a restraining order with respect to criminal charges he has repeatedly threatened against craigslist and its executives.
Two weeks ago Mr McMaster presented craigslist with an ultimatum, “to remove the portions of the Internet site dedicated to South Carolina and its municipal regions which contain categories for and functions allowing for the solicitation of prostitution and the dissemination and posting of graphic pornographic material” within ten (10) days.”
“If those South Carolina portions of the site are not removed,” McMaster said, “the management of craigslist may be subject to criminal investigation and prosecution.”
In addition to being unwarranted by the facts, legal experts agree that the charges threatened represent an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech, and are clearly barred by federal law (sec 230 CDA).
Interestingly, if you read Mr McMaster’s ultimatum carefully, you’ll note that the only way to definitively comply with it is to take down the craigslist sites for South Carolina in their entirety. The open architecture of craigslist, quintessential to the value it provides for users, simply does not allow for the absolute prevention of solicitation or pornography, with respect to any of its categories and functions.
Usage of craigslist in South Carolina has exploded over the last two years, with some cities experiencing 2000% growth. South Carolinians clearly value craigslist services, and appreciate finding jobs, housing, automobiles, for sale items, friends, romance, community information, local services, event listings, and just about everything else they need in their everyday lives, all in one place, and all for free.
Mr McMaster has persisted with his threats despite the fact that craigslist:
- is operating in full compliance with all applicable laws
- has earned a reputation for being unusually responsive to requests from law enforcement
- has eliminated its “erotic services” category for all US cities
- has adopted screening measures far stricter than those Mr McMaster himself personally endorsed with his signature just 6 months ago
- has far fewer and far tamer adult service ads than many mainstream print and online venues operating in South Carolina
- has made its representatives available to hear Mr McMaster’s concerns in person
- has politely asked Mr McMaster to retract and apologize for his unreasonable threats
In case there had been any ambiguity as to his intentions, Mr McMaster made the following remarks on Sunday:
“We opened an investigation at 5:01 on Friday, as promised. . . . We are preparing for a prosecution. We are investigating. We are moving forward. . . . . The #1 defendant is Mr. Jim Buckmaster, who is the man in charge of craigslist.. . . . craigslist is a big promoter and facilitator of prostitution.”
Mr McMaster’s repeated threats of criminal prosecution should we refuse to shut down craigslist for South Carolina have left us little choice but to seek declaratory relief before the court.