U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Federal Courts May Legalize Prostitution in California

What would your mother say?

Seriously, what would she say if a federal court rules prostitution is legal? "Oh my goodness!" "Are you kidding me?" "What the ----!?"

Her response might depend on when she was born, but it is a question that a federal court will soon decide. And who knows what the answer will be.

Say What?

In the past, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been pilloried as the "Ninth Circus." It will certainly revive that appellation if it reverses a decision against prostitution.

US. District Judge Jeffrey White of Oakland ruled against a lawsuit last year that sought to legalize prostitution in California. But the Ninth Circuit seemed inclined to reverse that decision at a recent hearing.

"Why should it be illegal to sell something that's legal to give away?" asked Judge Carlos Bea, reportedly one of the court's most conservative judges.

The specter of legal prostitution runs against the law of California since 1872, when prostitutes were subject to a $500 fine and six months in jail. The penalty now is $1,000, plus up to six months in jail.

The Supreme Court Said...

But in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that people have a right to consensual sexual conduct. Louis Sirkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Ninth Circuit case, said that includes sex workers and their customers.

"We see this is as an important issue both as a matter of liberty and as a matter of equality," said attorney Amanda Goad for the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

Deputy Attorney General Sharon O'Grady said banning commercial sex protects people against the harmful effects of prostitution. Lisa Thomson of the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation said prostitution is sexploitation.

"To the extent that this is permitted by law, they enshrine a right to buy human beings," she said.

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