Craigslist Sues South Carolina Attorney General McMaster; Asks For Restraining Order (Updated)

Craigslist is suing South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster in the state’s federal court, seeking declaratory relief as well as a restraining order with respect to criminal charges he has threatened against the company and its executives. The company is raising the gloves because it refuses to shut down its operations in South Carolina, claiming it’s in full compliance with all applicable laws and has already done enough by removing its ‘erotic services’ category.

Guess who we’re rooting for here? (Hint: We’ve encouraged the executive team at Craigslist to stand firm from the get-go). After all, our own poll shows that given the choice between keeping Craigslist or South Carolina, most of you would choose Craigslist. That is not too surprising. But even some people in South Carolina say Craigslist is more important than the state. And don’t forget the all-important “McMaster, stop abusing your power” Facebook group.

Facing certain prosecution, Craigslist decided to strike first with its own lawsuit. In a blog post, amusingly tagged ‘harrassment’ (sic), that went up earlier this morning, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster writes:

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.

We say just go ahead and shut off South Carolina from Craigslist.

Update: the Attorney General’s office says this is good news.

McMaster Statement On Craigslist Legal Action

COLUMBIA, SC – “The defensive legal action craigslist has taken against the solicitors and my office is good news. It shows that craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time

More importantly, overnight they have removed the erotic services section from their website, as we asked them to do. And they are now taking responsibility for the content of their future advertisements. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina.

Unfortunately, we had to inform them of possible state criminal violations concerning their past practices to produce a serious response. We trust they will now adhere to the higher standards they have promised. This office and the law enforcement agencies of South Carolina will continue to monitor the site to make certain that our laws are respected.”