9th Circuit to Hear Appeal in Lawsuit to Outlaw Nevada Brothels

Last year, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by three women who said they were victims of sex trafficking in Nevada’s legal brothels. The suit sought to outlaw those brothels and end Nevada's legal sex work industry. Nevada is the only U.S. state where sex work is legal, even in a limited way. 

But lawyers for the women, from the anti-sex work group the National Center on of Sexual Exploitation, will get another shot to take down Nevada’s legal brothels. According to an announcement by the group, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments regarding the case on Dec. 9.

In the lawsuit, plaintiff Rebekah Charleston claimed that she was held captive against her will and forced into prostitution “in one of Nevada’s most ‘famous’ brothels,” according to a statement by the NCOSE.  

The lawsuit claimed that Nevada’s statutes allowing brothels to operate legally in specific locations violated the Mann Act, a 110-year-old law that makes it a federal crime to transport a woman or girl across state lines for “immoral” purposes. In it's upcoming argument before the Ninth Circuit appellate court, the plaintiff’s lawyers say they will argue that legalized brothels in Nevada are, in fact, unconstitutional as well — because the 13th Amendment prohibits slavery or “involuntary servitude,” except as punishment for a crime, from existing in the United States. 

In her decision to dismiss the case, however, Nevada U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du — a 2012 Barack Obama appointee — did not specifically address the Mann Act or Constitutional issues, saying instead that the women did not have “standing” to file suit in federal court.

"While the Court empathizes with Plaintiffs for their lived experiences, the Court cannot adjudicate Plaintiffs’ claims because Plaintiffs fail to establish standing to confer jurisdiction upon this Court,” Du, the chief judge for the Nevada district, wrote in her Oct. 29, 2019 ruling.

At the time, Mustang Ranch owner Lance Gilman praised Du’s ruling and blasted the lawsuit as “a complete waste and misuse of taxpayer dollars and, from the very get go, appears to have been done for political gain rather than the establishment of sound policy."

The Ninth Circuit appears to have disagreed, and will now give the lawsuit that has the potential to shut down all legal brothels in Nevada a second chance, at the appellate level.

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