Woodhull Appeals Case Challenging FOSTA Constitutionality

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Sexual lifestyle education and advocacy group the Woodhull Freedom Foundation announces that it has filed an appeal in its suit challenging the constitutionality of FOSTA (also known as FOSTA/SESTA), the controversial anti-trafficking law that created an exemption to Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act allowing internet platforms to be held legally responsible for activity on their sites that could be seen as promoting sex trafficking.

Woodhull's challenge to FOSTA stretches back to June of 2018, just after the measure was signed into law by then President Donald Trump. Its initial suit was dismissed in September 2018 on grounds that Woodhull and co-plaintiffs Human Rights Watch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had no legal standing in the case, but that decision was overturned in January 2020 by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Most recently, in a decision rendered March 29 of this year by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, Woodhull and its co-plaintffs' case was once again dismissed. Woodhull is joined by Human Rights Watch, the Internet Archive and individuals Alex Andrews and Eric Koszyk in mounting the current appeal.

“We’re in the fight for the long haul,” says Ricci Joy Levy, executive director of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. “In the hours after its passage, we saw the dramatic chilling effect FOSTA would have on legally protected speech, as platforms, forums and resources used by sex workers and others were taken offline. In the years since, through both the data and lived experiences, we’ve seen how FOSTA has endangered the lives of sex workers. With this law, the government has encouraged censorship that is otherwise prohibited by the First Amendment.” 

Added Lawrence Walters, one of the attorneys representing Woodhull, et al. in the suit, “FOSTA’s Section 230 exemption sets a dangerous precedent for government censorship of other types of disfavored speech. Given the constitutional issues in the case, we knew the trial court’s decision would ultimately be appealed to the DC Circuit, where we won in the last appeal. We are confident in the strength of our appeal, and look forward to the DC Circuit’s de novo review, which will allow it to take a fresh look at the constitutional issues posed by FOSTA.” 

Representing Woodhull and co-plaintiffs in the new appeal are Bob Corn-Revere of Davis Wright Tremaine; Lawrence G. Walters of Walters Law Group; Aaron Mackey, Corynne McSherry and David Greene of Electronic Frontier Foundation; and Daphne Keller of Stanford Cyber Law Center.