It's Day Two of Reason's annual Webathon, in which we are asking you, dear readers, to provide $250,000 in tax-deductible donations between now and December 8, so that we can bring you the very best in anti-hysterical, pro-woodchipper libertarian news and commentary. Click here for giving levels and more info.
This Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued an injunction to Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Tom Dart prohibiting him from threatening credit card companies who handle transactions with the classified-ads site Backpage.com, which has long been the target of anti-prostitution zealots who accuse the service of facilitating "sex trafficking." As per usual when it comes to Chicago's crackdown on Backpage, or the central role Backpage has played in the modern-day white-slavery panic, you could read about the injunction at Reason in a timely and informative manner.
But what we didn't mention was that this victory for free speech explicitly cited Reason in its reasoning (drink!). Here's a section from the opinion written by the celebrated jurist Richard Posner:
The letter [from Dart to credit companies] goes on to state that "it has become increasingly indefensible for any corporation to continue to willfully play a central role in an industry that reaps its cash from the victimization of women and girls across the world." The implication, given whom the letter is addressed to, is that credit card companies, such as MasterCard and Visa, "willfully play a central role" in a criminal activity (emphases added)—so they had better stop! Indeed, the letter goes on to say, those companies are "key" to the "growth" of sex trafficking in the United States. (Actually, as explained in an amicus curiae brief filed by the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, and DKT Liberty Project, citing voluminous governmental and academic studies, there are no reliable statistics on which Sheriff Dart could base a judgment that sex trafficking has been increasing in the United States.)
Bolding mine. You can read that amicus curiae brief here.
The Reason Foundation, through the leadership of longtime Trustee and noted attorney Manuel S. Klausner, has been quietly ramping up its amicus curiae program over the past few years. A good deal of that work, naturally enough, has dovetailed with work you have read here on the editorial side, from the likes of Elizabeth Nolan Brown. In her landmark November cover story, "The War on Sex Trafficking Is the New War on Drugs," Brown painstakingly traced the origins of wholly bogus yet officially cited numbers of sex-trafficked minors:
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D–Ohio) declared in a May statement that "in the U.S., some 300,000 children are at risk each year for commercial sexual exploitation." Rep. Ann Wagner (R–Mo.) made a similar statement that month at a congressional hearing, claiming the statistic came from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The New York Times has also attributed this number to the DOJ, while Fox News raised the number to 400,000 and sourced it to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But not only are these not DOJ or HHS figures, they're based on 1990s data published in a non-peer-reviewed paper that the primary researcher, Richard Estes, no longer endorses. The authors of that study came up with their number by speculating that certain situations—i.e., living in public housing, being a runaway, having foreign parents—place minors at risk of potential exploitation by sex traffickers. They then simply counted up the number of kids in those situations. To make a bad measure worse, anyone who fell into more than one category was counted multiple times.
"PLEASE DO NOT CITE THESE NUMBERS," wrote Michelle Stransky and David Finkelhor of the respected Crimes Against Children Research Center in 2008. "The reality is that we do not currently know how many juveniles are involved in prostitution. Scientifically credible estimates do not exist." A lengthy 2013 report on child sex trafficking from the Justice Department concluded that "no reliable national estimate exists of the incidence or prevalence of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States."
This is the kind of rigorously applied, convincing-to-non-libertarians reason in the face of moral panic that your tax-deductible donations help fund.
The Posner ruling was not the only sweet citation for Reason since the last time we held a Webathon. In June, the Texas Supreme Court struck down a state licensing law that required eyebrow threaders to complete 750 hours of cosmetology training, calling the scheme "so burdensome as to be oppressive." In a concurring opinion that Reason Senior Editor Damon Root described as "easily one of the most libertarian legal decision's I've ever read," Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett cited Root's Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court in the midst of writing passages like, "This case is fundamentally about the American Dream and the unalienable human right to pursue happiness without curtsying to government on bended knee." Willett's blistering opinion earned him a pre-emptive endorsement to the U.S. Supreme Court by George Will (who shares the Texan's fondness for Overruled).
There are a thousand ways to beat back Leviathan in the naked city, and one of them is by influencing the judicial system. Reason's ethos has always been to butt our noses in policy and philosophical arguments wherever they are taking place, and move the needle wherever we can. Having judges cite our work while defending free speech, free enterprise, and the freedom from ever-expanding Commerce-Clause regulation by the feds, is the kind of fruit we deliver with your seed money.