In a sharply worded opinion (PDF), a panel of appeals judges has ordered Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart to stop his campaign seeking to "crush" Backpage.com's adult advertisement section.
Ars last wrote about the dispute between Dart and Backpage in July, when US District Judge John Tharp Jr. issued a temporary restraining order stopping some of Dart's pushier behavior, when he confronted Visa and Mastercard over their relationships with Backpage. But Tharp changed his tune the following month, denying Backpage a preliminary injunction that would have stopped Dart from trying to "coerce, threaten, or intimate repercussions" to card companies or other financial institutions. The credit card companies stayed away from Backpage.
US Circuit Judge Richard Posner, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, writes today that the district court judge was wrong, and he grants Backpage the injunction it sought. In Posner's view, Dart was using his power as sheriff of a populous county to bully payment processors into backing away from a site that hosted ads he didn't like, a clear violation of the First Amendment. It's telling, Posner writes, that Dart didn't just sue Backpage.com. Dart had already tried that strategy against Craigslist, and lost.