Online classifieds site Backpage wants a federal appellate court to prohibit Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart from pressing credit card companies to de-fund the site, according to new court papers.
The company set the appellate process in motion on Thursday, when it filed the paperwork to appeal U.S. District Court Judge John Tharp, Jr.'s refusal to grant a preliminary injunction against Dart.
The battle between Backpage and Dart centers on the site's "adult" ads. Dart, like numerous other critics of the online company, say it promotes sex trafficking by allowing the ads, many of which are thinly veiled ads for prostitution.
Earlier this year, Visa and Mastercard said they would no longer process payments for Backpage.com. Both credit card companies ended their relationship with Backpage after receiving letters from Dart, who told the companies that sites like Backpage "promote prostitution and facilitate online sex trafficking."
Backpage then began offering adult services ads for free, while also seeking a court order banning Dart from continuing with his campaign to defund the site. The company said that it wasn't responsible for crimes by users, and that Dart's actions were jeopardizing Backpage's ability to provide an online forum for speech.
Tharp, who presides in U.S. District Court in Illinois, initially sided with Backpage and issued a temporary restraining order against Dart.
But last month Tharp allowed the temporary order to expire, leaving Dart free to continue lobbying against the company. Tharp said in that later ruling that an injunction wasn't appropriate because Dart presented evidence showing that Mastercard and Visa were already considering ending their relationshipå with Backpage before he got involved.
Tharp also said that Dart has a constitutional right to express his opinion and to "publicly criticize the credit card companies for any connection to illegal activity, as long as he stops short of threats."
Earlier this week, Backpage asked Tharp to issue a new injunction while the company pursues an appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The company unsuccessfully argued that it was at risk of irreparable harm due to the credit card companies' refusal to process transactions.
It's not yet clear when the 7th Circuit will hear the case.