President Donald Trump signed into law landmark sex trafficking legislation on Wednesday after it passed the Senate with a 97-2 vote. The effort deserves the praise it’s receiving for the bipartisan achievement, but a moment’s pause begs the question: Shouldn’t this kind of cooperation be business as usual for the country’s highest legislative body?
The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or “FOSTA,” amends, among other laws, the Communications Decency Act to exclude legal protections for websites that “unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution.” The rippling effect of the legislation has already been felt as online advertisements for prostitution have steadily declined over the past two months. The most notable impact could be the federal seizure of backpage.com, which the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children determines is accountable for 73 percent of all sex trafficking charges the organization receives each year.
One would think aiding the victims of heinous crimes and chipping away at the child sex trade would be low-hanging legislative fruit for any body of lawmakers, but the effort took nothing short of, well, effort to gather the requisite information for indictment and overcome intense opposition from Silicon Valley.
Through it all, Congress demonstrated a degree of focus, cooperation and diligence not seen in recent years. It began when courts around the country dismissed criminal and civil cases against Backpage and other websites for hosting salacious content on their sites. The web hosts legally claimed immunity through the Communications Decency Act. The courts then dutifully invited Congress to change the law.
Congress responded to the invitation by launching a successful bipartisan investigation into the behavior of Backpage. The report from the Senate investigations subcommittee informed the FBI, which then arrested seven of Backpage’s top executives and seized their website. Meanwhile, members of Congress concentrated on writing bills to fix the immunities given to such websites. After House reconciliation, FOSTA emerged and passed with overwhelming support.
If the whole process sounds like a textbook entry on how a bill becomes a law, it should. The trouble is it feels more like fantasy than reality amid the regular and often ridiculous squabbles that emerge daily from the Capitol. We have repeatedly criticized passing legislation without debate or discussion. We have called out over many years the common practice in Congress of the party in power not allowing amendments or compromise measures to come from the minority party. It is positive to see a constitutionally correct process and regular order followed on such a critical piece of legislation.5 comments on this story
Less substantial bills, of course, routinely pass Congress with few dissenting votes, but it’s heartening to see legislation of this magnitude garner the support of both sides.
Passing one bill with bipartisan support shouldn’t be cause for celebration — though it is worthy of emulation — and it should reflect the normal and expected process and outcome for the work of the U.S. Congress. Rather than spinning its wheels in endless commotion, Congress demonstrated that it is, in fact, capable of forward movement. It should harness this momentum by following similar patterns of cooperation for upcoming legislative efforts.