Reason Roundup

Jeffrey Epstein in Court Today on Sex Trafficking Charges

Plus: How the French could kill U.S. speech, do economic centrists exist?, and more...


7 things to know about the Jeffrey Epstein case. On Saturday, billionaire and buddy to the powerful Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York City. He's due in federal court Monday on charges of trafficking a minor and conspiracy to do so. An indictment against him was unsealed this morning (as I was finishing this, which means I've had time to skim but not read closely yet). 

There are a lot of parts to this case. Why now? Who else may be implicated? What do lawyer Alan Dershowitz, activist Mike Cernovich, and The Miami Herald have to do with it? Here's hoping to answer those questions and more in a few bullet points:

  • How long has this case been going on? A long time! Epstein first pleaded guilty in June 2008 to charges of soliciting and procuring a person under the age of 18 for prostitution. He was accused of paying young women and teen girls to give him massages and then pressuring or forcing them into sexual activity. At the time, federal prosecutors declined to pursue the case so long as Epstein registered as a sex offender in Florida, served a little time in jail, and paid compensation to the victims. The prosecutor handling the case was Alexander Acosta, who is now secretary of labor.
  • Why did the feds decline to prosecute then? It's unclear, but one thing worth noting is that soliciting or patronizing prostitution from victims of sex trafficking was not explicitly a federal crime until 2015, with the passage of the Trafficking Victims' Protection Act. That law also stipulated that "there is no need to prove either that the defendant knew, or that he recklessly disregarded, the fact that a sex trafficking victim was a minor if the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim." In addition, it made prosecuting said crimes more lucrative for the feds, stating that forfeiture was allowed for any asset that is involved in, or traceable to the proceeds of, human trafficking. That means that instead of just profits made by traffickers (profits that don't really exist in this case), a house where trafficking took place, vehicles used to transport victims, etc., could now be seized. And, indeed, the new indictment against Epstein lays claim to his Palm Beach and New York City residences. Before 2015, the feds may have been able to charge Epstein under the Mann Act (which prohibits bringing minors or adults across state lines for prostitution) or under federal statutes related to crimes against children. But proving federal crimes and getting any assets from Epstein out of them would likely have been much harder back in 2008.
  • Why did the case against Epstein start gaining attention again a few years ago? After Epstein's 2008 plea deal, two of his victims sued right away, saying prosecutors didn't consult with them about the deal as required under the Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA). Their suit got new life in December 2014, when two more victims petitioned to join the case as plaintiffs. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit noted recently, these new petitioners "included in their filings not only descriptions of sexual abuse by Epstein, but also new allegations of sexual abuse by several other prominent individuals," including lawyer Alan Dershowitz. A court would have these allegations stricken from the record, but they reached the media anyway.
  • What happened last week before the arrest? Plaintiffs in the CVRA suit reached a settlement in 2017, and documents related to this were ordered to be kept under seal. Wanting to clear his name, Dershowitz sued to have them unsealed. Eventually, right-wing activist Mike Cernovich and Miami Herald writer Julie Brown would also seek to intervene and have the records unsealed. A district court let them intervene but denied their requests to unseal the orders. They appealed. On July 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found "that there is no countervailing privacy interest sufficient to justify their continued sealing" and ordered "that the summary judgement documents (with minimal redactions) be unsealed upon issuance of our mandate."
  • Did the newly unsealed records have anything to do with Epstein's arrest a few days later? Probably not. While the timing is mighty tight, the renewed investigation into Epstein had already been underway and the July 6 arrest was likely in motion before July 3. What's more, the court's July 3 order to unseal the records doesn't mean they're actually unsealed yet, as they must first be reviewed and redacted by a lower court (though it's not totally clear what U.S. attorneys may have been already or immediately after the ruling privy to). However, renewed media attention to the case did likely play a big role in federal prosecutors revisiting it in the first place.  
  • Was this really sex traffickingPeople keep asking me that question. It's tough to answer, since sex trafficking is defined very differently depending on who or what you consult. But the short answer is that legally, it is: The conduct Epstein is accused of committing does fall under the federal definition of sex trafficking (which encompasses any paid sexual activity involving a minor, including paying them yourself). And more so than almost any case I've covered, Epstein's alleged actions fall within the spirit and not just the letter of the law. They also come much closer to what many people might think of when they think about "sex trafficking." But these allegations against Epstein—while exposing unequivocally wrong actions on his part—may be more closely aligned with other crimes, such as sexual assault, statutory rape, etc. The decision to bring child sex trafficking charges is likely a function of a) some of these other things not being federal crimes, b) a general federal enthusiasm for adding trafficking charges in sex-crime cases, and/or c) the greater asset forfeiture possibilities and related conspiracy/etc. possibilities that come with the federal sex trafficking statute.
  • Why hasn't this devolved into a partisan mudslinging fest yet? Because popular figures on both sides have palled around with Epstein, and bad actors on both sides may be implicated. While it's nice to think the near-universal cheering of Epstein's arrest comes because we can all agree on certain moral standards, we've seen really bad behavior excused before when it makes only one side look bad. Here, we're likely saved by the fact that it's to neither Republicans' nor Democrats' advantage to weaponize this.


The French don't get free speech. French president Emmanuel Macron "and others in Europe are moving to unilaterally impose speech controls on the internet with new legislation in France and Germany. If you believe this is a European issue, think again," writes legal scholar Jonathan Turley at The Hill

Macron and his government are attempting to unilaterally scrub out the internet of hateful thoughts. The French Parliament has moved toward a new law that would give internet companies like Facebook and Google just 24 hours to remove hateful speech from their sites or face fines of $1.4 million per violation. A final vote is expected next week. Germany passed a similar measure last year and imposed fines of $56 million.

How would such a crackdown affect us? 

Europeans know these companies are quite unlikely to surgically remove content for individual countries. The effect will be similar to the "California Exception." All states are subject to uniform vehicle emissions standards under the Clean Air Act, but California was given an exception to establish more stringent standards. Rather than create special cars for California, the more stringent standards tend to drive car designs. When it comes to speech controls, Europeans know they can limit speech not only in their countries but practically limit speech in the United States and elsewhere.


Where are all the economic centrists? In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen tries to argue that American libertarians are basically a myth. At National Review, Robert VerBruggen calls foul. Olsen's argument relied on a 2017 paper by Lee Drutman that found that only about 4 percent of Americans are "socially liberal and economically conservative." But the Drutman's analysis (which was torn apart at the time by both Karl Smith at the Niskanen Center and Emily Ekins at the Cato Institute) relied on a ridiculous approach to categorizing economic liberals, conservatives, and centrists. Here's VerBruggen

The economic axis (left-right on the chart) is obviously incorrect. Most of the data points—74 percent of them!—are left of center. This means that the center isn't actually, well, the center. When you make it so that the vast majority of people are left of "center" on economics, very few will be right on economics and left on social issues.


If Amash did run for president, as a Libertarian or as an independent, it could hurt Democrats, not just Republicans, suggests John Fund at National Review.   


  • The Affordable Care Act is on trial again this week. 
  • State drivers license databases are a "gold mine" for facial recognition programs run by federal immigration agents and law enforcement.
  • Residents of Maryland no longer have to list their sex or gender as either male or female to vote.
  • Economist Tyler Cowen weighs in on the census citizenship question. 
  • Bad news for bikini baristas?

  • Contra reporting in The Hill, Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska's exculpatory claims about Paul Manafort won't be much use to the former Trump campaign manager legally. 
  • Quebec's education minister says Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai can only teach there if she doesn't wear a headscarf. 
  • Protecting and serving: