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Free Expression

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights v. Craigslist

In Chicago Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under The Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Inc., the plaintiff – a non-profit public interest consortium of 45 law firms whose mission is to promote civil rights and eliminate discriminatory housing practices – alleges that Defendant Craigslist’s online posting process discourages or prohibits certain home-seekers from pursuing housing thus decreasing the number of units available to them. Craigslist operates a website that posts “user-supplied information” that includes, among other things, housing sale and rental opportunities on a non-commercial bulletin board system. CLC contends that through its posting process, Craigslist is in essence publishing housing advertisements that indicate a preference, limitation, or discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, or familial status. In doing so, CLC sought a declaratory judgment that Craigslist violated a subsection of the Fair Housing Act that “prohibits racial discrimination of all kinds in housing.” The lower court granted the Craigslist motion for judgment on the pleadings and barred the case under §230 immunity. However in doing so, it also held that §230 barred only those causes of action that would require treating intermediaries as publisher of third-party content.

CDT and the other amici strongly urged the Seventh Circuit court to overturn the lower court’s narrow interpretation of when immunity will be provided to information content providers. The Seventh Circuit recently issued its decision in the Craigslist case, upholding the applicability of §230 to protect Craigslist from liability. The appeals court did, however, suggest that §230 has some unspecified limitations. CDT was disheartened by the court’s failure to embrace a broader reading of the provision, but is confident that the court’s ruling will not narrow §230’s applicability.