Down with Hypocrisy, Again

Over at Democratic Audit UK, Mollie Gerver has an interesting post arguing that the European Union should decriminalize people smuggling ― that is, helping consenting individuals to cross borders which they lack permission to cross, in exchange for payment. (Consent is very important here: it’s what distinguishes “smuggling” from “trafficking,” the moving of people by force or fraud.) Having once written that Canada’s anti-smuggling laws are a form of organized hypocrisy, I agree. If anything, I would go even further than Ms. Gerver.

Ms. Gerver points that it is not illegal for a refugee to pay a smuggler, or to come to a country where he or she applies for protection. Even those whose applications for refugee status are denied are only deported, not punished. Smugglers, by contrast, face stiff criminal sanctions if they are caught, and this, Ms. Gerver explains, creates all sorts of perverse incentives. For example, smugglers “require extensive intelligence information to evade border control officials, which is often only possible by joining forces with those involved in arms trading and human trafficking networks.” Even worse, “[t]o avoid getting caught and arrested, smugglers often also take violent actions against migrants and refugees.” Moreover, because they face criminal sanctions whether or not they endanger the people they transport, smugglers are incentivized to carry as many people as they can, regardless of the risks, so as to maximize the profits.

Ms. Gerver proposes that smuggling be decriminalized, and that smugglers only face criminal punishment actions that are independently wrong, whether abuse or endangerment of the migrants, arms trafficking, or even “fraud if they fail to warn migrants and refugees about the risks of the journey.” In this way, smugglers will actually have an incentive to avoid, not to engage in, these sorts of behaviour. In Ms. Gerver’s view, such an approach would not be inconsistent with turning potential refugees away if they are intercepted before reaching safe haven, and generally with trying to reduce the number of those who reach their destinations and claim asylum. Indeed, she believes that “smuggling may also be easier to stop if decriminalised,” because smugglers might become “less nervous about being caught” once they know that they will not face sanctions if they are.

I’m not sure quite how seriously Ms. Gerver means her suggestions that decriminalization would be a way of reducing the number of refugees able to claim asylum in the West. I doubt that the suggestion is correct, because lowering the price of smuggling to those who engage in it will also lower the price their clients have to pay, and thus attract more of them, many more, I suspect, than would be stopped en route. Ms. Gerver might not think that this would be a good thing. But I certainly do. Indeed, I now believe, as I did not when I wrote the post linked to above, that states have no right to keep out any migrants, whether they are fleeing natural disasters, war, political persecution, or misery caused by the same sort of bad government that makes natural disasters into humanitarian catastrophes and causes wars and persecution. But you need not share this view to think that allowing more people who are genuine refugees as the term is generally understood to come to safety would be a good thing.

Indeed, you do not even need to believe that to want to change a policy that makes it more likely that refugees will be victimized by smugglers. To repeat, this policy is one of rank hypocrisy. We say that we welcome refugees, but actually we put barriers that not only make it difficult for them to come, but ensure that those who make the attempt are more likely to suffer or even die. That this barriers are invisible makes it worse. Ostensibly we protect vulnerable people from exploitation. In reality, as I argued in my earlier post on this topic, and as Ms. Gerver confirms, we create incentives for the smugglers to exploit them. To the somewhat more specific points Ms. Gerver makes, I would add the following, more general, one that I made in my earlier post:

[a]s with drugs, illegality ― created by the state ― reduces the number of willing sellers and increases the risks for which each of them wants to be compensated out of the price he charges. … But it seems quite wrong for the state to manufacture the conditions that give rise to the appearances of exploitation and then blame, and even criminalize, others for that exploitation.

The same situation prevailed with sex work under the legislative framework that the Supreme Court struck down in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, [2013] 3 S.C.R. 1101. As I wrote in commenting on that decision, exploitation of sex workers by pimps is no small part a predictable consequence of the illegality of “living off the avails” of prostitution:

no law can make demand for protection of and assistance to prostitutes vanish. By criminalizing the supply that emerges to meet this demand, law makes supply more scarce, and therefore more costly, both in purely financial terms, and in the overall exactions the suppliers impose on their customers. An illegal activity inevitably attracts more “tough” ― read, abusive ― people than a legal one would.

Parliament was forced to change the way it regulated sex work after Bedford, but the new legal framework is, if anything, even more similar to that which applies to people smuggling, both in form and in effect. Only one side of the consensual  transaction, the one allegedly exploiting the other, is criminalized (in the case of smuggling, the supply; in the case of sex work, the demand), but the putative victim is endangered, and probably also stigmatized, as a result. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that, as with sex work and other activities considered reprehensible, regulations that ostensibly protect people from their ill-effects are actually meant to scare or disgust them out of engaging in these activities; or at least that, even if this is not the intent, the supporters of such laws really do not mind if they this effect.

The title of my comment on Bedford was “Down with Hypocrisy.” I still feel that way about the criminalization of sex work ― or of the demand for sex work. And I still feel that way about the criminalization of human smuggling ― or, to describe it less hypocritically, of remunerated assistance to people crossing borders that states had no business preventing them from crossing in the first place. Hypocritical laws enacted with, at best, a reckless disregard for the misery they cause do not belong on the statute book of any decent polity.

H/t: Michael Plaxton

Disrupting C-36

The Economist has published a lengthy and informative “briefing” on the ways in which the internet is changing prostitution ― often, although not always, for the benefit of sex workers. As it explains, the effects of new technologies on what is usually said to be the oldest profession are far-reaching, and mostly positive ― insofar as they make sex work safer than it used to be. If the federal government had been concerned with protecting sex workers, and if Parliament had truly “ha[d] grave concerns about … the risks of violence posed to those who engage in” prostitution, as it affected to be in the preamble of the so-called Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, S.C. 2014 c. 25, better known as Bill C-36, they would have considered the internet’s potential for benefiting sex workers.

But as the government’s and Parliament’s chief concern was apparently to make prostitution vanish by a sleight of criminal law’s heavy hand, its middle finger raised at the Supreme Court, they instead sought to drive sex workers off the internet. The new section 286.4 of the Criminal Code, created by C-36, criminalizes “[e]veryone who knowingly advertises an offer to provide sexual services for consideration,” although section 286.5 exempts those advertising “their own sexual services.” In other words, if a sex worker has her own website, that’s tolerated ― but if she uses some other service, or at least one geared specifically to sex workers and their potential customers, the provider of that service is acting illegally.

Meanwhile, according to the Economist, in the market for sex, as in so many others,

specialist websites and apps are allowing information to flow between buyer and seller, making it easier to strike mutually satisfactory deals. The sex trade is becoming easier to enter and safer to work in: prostitutes can warn each other about violent clients, and do background and health checks before taking a booking. Personal web pages allow them to advertise and arrange meetings online; their clients’ feedback on review sites helps others to proceed with confidence.

Above all, the ability to advertise, screen potential clients, and pre-arrange meetings online means that sex workers need not look for clients in the most dangerous environment for doing so ― on the street. Besides, “the internet is making it easier to work flexible hours and to forgo a middleman,” and indeed “it is independent sex workers for whom the internet makes the biggest difference.”

The internet is also making sex work safer. Yet the work of websites that “let [sex workers] vouch for clients they have seen, improving other women’s risk assessments,” or “where customers can pay for a background check to present to sex workers” is probably criminalized under the new section 286.2(1) added to the Criminal Code by C-36, which applies to “[e]veryone who receives a financial or other material benefit, knowing that it is obtained by or derived directly or indirectly from the commission of an offence under subsection 286.1(1)” ― the “obtaining sexual services for consideration” offence. Forums where sex workers can provide each other with tips and support can be shut down if they are associated with or part of websites that advertise “sexual services.”

As the Economist points out, the added safety (both from violent clients and law enforcement), convenience, and discretion can attract more people into sex work. So trying to eliminate the online marketplace for sex makes sense if one’s aim is, as I put it here, “to drive people out of sex work by making it desperately miserable” ― but that’s a hypocritical approach, and not what C-36 purports to do.

In any case, criminalization complicates the work of websites that help sex workers and their clients, but does not stop it. They are active in the United States, despite prostitution being criminalized in almost every State ― though they pretend that their contents are fictional. They base their activities in more prostitution-friendly jurisdictions. A professor interviewed by the Economist points out that a ban on advertising sexual services in Ireland “has achieved almost nothing.” There seems to be little reason to believe that the ban in C-36, which has a large exemption for sex workers advertising themselves, would fare differently.

The Economist concludes that “[t]he internet has disrupted many industries. The oldest one is no exception.” Yet the government and Parliament have been oblivious to this trend, as they have been oblivious to most of the realities of sex work. One must hope that courts, when they hear the inevitable challenge to the constitutionality of C-36, will take note.


I am quite late on this, but I have only recently come across a post by Grégoire Webber on the UK Constitutional Law blog, arguing that the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, the decision striking down various prostitution-related provisions of the Criminal Code is based on flawed inferences from the fact that these provisions did not criminalize prostitution itself (i.e. the sale of sex). Prof. Webber argues that

[t]he judgment’s repeated assertion that there is a legal liberty to sell sex for money draws on the unstated premise that there is a moral quality to this liberty or to all liberties in the law, such that that which is not criminally prohibited is therefore just, choice-worthy, and not to be discouraged by government or law.

In prof. Webber’s view, this “unstated premise” is mistaken. That selling sex is not legally prohibited does not make it morally permitted. The Supreme Court compared the Criminal Code’s prohibitions on prostitution-related activities, which had the effect of making sex work more dangerous than it would have been in their absence, to a prohibition on wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle. The trouble, prof. Webbers contends, is that

[t]he assumed persuasiveness of this analogy rests on the Court’s unstated and undefended premise that one also has a moral liberty to sell sex for money. Absent that premise, the analogy can do no work, just as it would do no work if appealed to in support of the legal liberties to bully, to commit adultery, and to lie to one’s friends.

If prostitution ―unlike riding a bicycle ― is morally wrong, then it is permissible for the legislature to “frustrate [it] by indirect means,” such as the criminalization of various activities surrounding it, which is exactly what the provisions invalidated in Bedford did.

With respect, I think that this argument misses the point. The issue in Bedford is not whether Parliament ought to be able to frustrate the commission of moral wrongs by indirect means, but whether the means it had chosen were permissible.

Take an example offered by prof. Webber ― say adultery ― and assume that a legislature wants to frustrate its commission without criminalizing it. (For the sake of convenience, make it a legislature in a unitary state, unencumbered by the division of powers under the Canadian constitution, albeit subject to a bill of rights exactly like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). The legislature could do several things. It could fund couple-therapy programmes that would (hopefully) make for happier marriages and less adultery. It could require anti-adultery education in schools. It could make a public promise of fidelity a requirement for entering into a civil marriage. It could implement rules punishing adulterous spouses in the event of a divorce, for example depriving them of property or support entitlements they would otherwise obtain. It could also amend the criminal law to provide that the killing of an adulterous spouse is not to be treated as a murder, but as justified self-defence.

The first two of these options would obviously be legally permitted, and I think there is nothing wrong with them from a broader perspective of political morality (though mandatory anti-adultery education sounds a bit creepy). They may or may not be effective, but not legally or morally problematic. A mandatory promise of fidelity may be constitutionally problematic as a violation of freedom of conscience, as I have argued here, insofar as there is disagreement in society over the meaning of marriage and the value (or interpretation) of fidelity. It would also, I think, be morally disturbing, because overbearingly paternalistic. Family law rules punishing adulterous spouses would probably not be unconstitutional, unless it is shown that their application punishes one gender more than the other, in breach of the constitutional guarantee of equality. Morally, such rules would be troubling, not least because of the perverse incentives and acrimony they would generate; even assuming that their purpose would be worthwhile, they could easily do more harm than good. Finally, I think it is quite clear that exempting the killers of adulterers from the law of murder would be both immoral and unconstitutional, no matter how effective such a measure might be at “frustrating” adultery. Subjecting adulterers, no matter how badly we think of them, to an increased risk of death would be a violation of the rights to life and to security of the person, and an entirely disproportionate one.

Indeed, so would be a rule allowing police officers to shoot persons whom they caught in the process of committing actual crimes in situations where doing so is not necessary to preserve anyone’s life or safety. That the activity a legislature seeks to frustrate is a morally ― or even legally ― prohibited one is simply not a sufficient justification for depriving those involved in the activity of certain rights.

Thus, even assuming that sex work is morally wrong ― which I do not believe (and which, as I read his post, prof. Webber might not believe either) ― Parliament is not justified in seeking to frustrate it by any means. The means it chooses, just like the means it chooses to prevent the commission of actual crimes, must still comply with the Charter, and in particular with the security of the person guarantee that was invoked in Bedford.

H/T: Paul Daly


I would like to ask Peter MacKay, the federal Injustice Minister, some questions about the federal government’s proposal for regulating prostitution out of existence, Bill C-36. The immediate inspiration for these questions is the story of Mike Allen, a Progressive-Conservative member of the Alberta legislature, who pleaded guilty in Minnesota to charges resulting from his attempt to hire two sex workers while visiting the state. Unfortunately for him, the women to whose ad he responded were undercover police officers. Mr. Allen had had to leave the PC caucus, but his colleagues have now voted to allow him to rejoin them.

My first question is whether Mr. MacKay would be brave enough to call Mr. Allen a pervert ― which is how he described people who use the services of sex workers ― to his face, and not just to moralize in the abstract. A second, related, question is what Mr. MacKay thinks of Mr. Allen’s caucus colleagues, who presumably have concluded that his actions were not especially reprehensible. Are they perverts too? Or do they just lack Mr. MacKay’s especially fine moral judgment?

Another set of questions concerns police investigations like that which ensnared Mr. Allen, involving women officers posing as sex workers. Are such tactics going to be used in Canada, if Bill C-36’s provisions criminalizing the purchase of sex become law? If not, what in Bill C-36 makes it so? If yes, does Mr. MacKay think that this is a good thing? More specifically, does Mr. MacKay think that these tactics comport with the dignity of the officers who have to pose as prostitutes ― as persons, as women, and as police officers? Do they respect gender equality, which he purports to advance by prohibiting the purchase of sex?

In a somewhat different vein, I would also be curious to know whether Mr. MacKay thinks that it is a good idea to expend police resources on such investigations. Is it worthwhile to employ officers to lure potential consumers of sexual services? Is it a better use of their time than, say, investigating actual human trafficking or other cases where people are actually forced into sex work? Or a better use of taxpayer money than helping actual victims of such practices?

I would like to know, in a nutshell, what it is that Mr. MacKay thinks that we as a society gain by having a Mr. Allen prosecuted and condemned, except assuaging a lust for what Jonathan Kay, of all people, has described as “punitive, obsessive, politically cynical moral absolutism” ― a lust which even people who might be expected to support the government do not share (as Mr. Kay’s example shows). This lust, indeed, makes me think that the real perverts who threaten us are not the Mr. Allens of this country, but the Mr. MacKays.


Sex and Cigarettes

In defending the provisions of the Criminal Code relative to prostitution which the Supreme Court ultimately invalidated in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, the federal government argued that their goal was to deter prostitution ― which, however, they did not criminalize. Presumably, given their effects, which were mostly to expose sex workers to violence from clients and pimps, these provisions were supposed to make them too afraid of sex work to keep at it. (The Supreme Court, I should note, did not accept the government’s characterization of the prostitution provisions’ purpose.)

As I wrote in discussing the Bedford decision, this is a hypocritical approach ― “[n]ot criminalizing prostitution but hoping that if we make it awful enough it will go away.” Unfortunately, Bill C-36, the federal government’s proposed response to Bedford, in many ways doubles down on this approach of hoping to drive people out of sex work by making it desperately miserable, without prohibiting them from engaging in it (although it does criminalize the sex workers’ clients). In the case of sex work, this strategy has attracted withering criticism, and rightly so.

But in at least one other context, it is deployed without any protest. When it comes to government attempts to deter smoking, hardly anyone these days thinks it wrong to disgust smokers into quitting (or to disgust potential smokers into not taking up the habit), while not banning cigarettes (and eagerly continuing  to collect taxes on them). The government requires printing disgusting graphic pictures on cigarette packaging, and it tries to prohibit tobacco products that taste like something other than tobacco. As tobacco companies try to get around these rules, scientists and advocates urge it to widen the bans, arguing that

If people are going to use tobacco, then it should taste like tobacco … It should be harsh smoke that they’re inhaling and should not be hidden in the flavours that are being added to the products.

The reasoning is an exact parallel of that which the federal government applies to prostitution. It is not very much of a stretch to imagine Peter Mackay thinking, if not saying, that if people are going to become prostitutes, they should feel like prostitutes; that it should be the fear and squalor that they’re feeling, which should not be hidden behind the comfort and safety of well-protected work environments.

Needless to say, tobacco policy does not raise quite the same sort of concerns as sex work policy does. Legally, there is a constitutional right to the security of the person, but no right to be free from disgust. At the level of morality, it is arguably less objectionable to “nudge” people through disgust than through fear. Yet the similarities between the two policies are remarkable. In both cases, the government (and advocates urging it on) seek to deter a behaviour that prevailing morality finds reprehensible (the sale of sex, the use of tobacco) not by prohibiting it, but by subjecting those who engage in it to the heavy pressure of their own negative emotions (fear, disgust).

I’m not sure if there are other examples of laws that operate in this way in Canada. (One superficially similar case, Québec’s former rule prohibiting butter-coloured margarine, was obviously motivated not by moral concerns but by the pressure of the dairy lobby.) One example that does come to mind, however, is the laws requiring one or both of the parents of a minor to be notified before she can have an abortion, which exist in a number of States in the U.S. Again, the governments of these States seek to deter what they regard as a morally undesirable practice by exposing those about to engage in it to shame and possibly fear (as well as financial and other pressures).

I am inclined to think that this approach is wrong, whether in the case of sex work, abortion, or smoking. As Jeremy Waldron’s work on the Rule of Law and human dignity emphasizes, law normally tries ― and ought to try ― to treat those subject to it as human beings, endowed with dignity and capacity for rational choice. It does not, and ought not to, treat them as objects or beast who need to be prodded around. Regulatory schemes that rely on visceral negative emotions such as fear, disgust, or shame seem to me to come close to doing that. To be sure, law often relies on a certain fear of negative consequences of non-compliance with its substantive or formal requirements (whether punishment, liability, invalidity or unenforceability, etc.). But, for one thing, it seems to me that, although the difference is difficult to put into words, the nature of this fear is not the same, and not as disturbing. Perhaps more importantly, and more clearly, the unpleasant consequences of non-compliance  are something the law explicitly tells people to avoid. There is no manipulation going on. They are also produced by the legal system itself ― by the judges who announce them, by the prison wardens and bailiffs who enforce them, and so on, not by external factors for the law purports not to take responsibility.

These thoughts are somewhat tentative, and I would welcome correction and contradiction. If I am right however, this sort of manipulation by negative emotions in the service of majoritarian morality is wrong, and we should oppose it, regardless of whether it is applied to sex work, abortion access ― or cigarettes.

Rights, Property… and Blogging

Because one blog is obviously not enough, I will now also be blogging for the CBA National Magazine. Initially at least, I will only be writing for them once a month. In any event, my main blogging focus will remain here, at Double Aspect. However, I am excited about this new venture and the possibility of reaching out to a somewhat different (and broader) audience that comes with it, not to mention what I hope will be additional publicity for this blog, so I’m grateful to the Magazine’s editor, Yves Faguy, for the kind invitation to contribute.

My first post there argues that Canadian constitutional law’s failure to protect property and economic rights, although motivated by a concern that these rights would be invoked in the interest of the well-off and to the detriment of the poor, ends up hurting the vulnerable and the marginalized members of society. I have already made this case here, when discussing the “victim surcharge” imposed on offenders in addition to their normal sentences, which is in effect a transfer of wealth from the poor to the better-off. I now take up this theme in discussing Bill C-36, the federal government’s response to the Supreme Court’s judgment in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, [2013] 3 SCR 1101. The  Supreme Court’s persistent refusal to acknowledge that the liberty protected by section 7 of the Charter includes economic self-determination means that the discussion about the bill’s flaws and possible (although by no means certain) constitutionality essentially ignores the question of the sex workers’ right to earn their living as best they can. That is unfortunate:

A recognition of the sex workers’ right to earn a living in their own way would obviate the need for an uncertain balancing of the sex workers’ right to be safe and the government’s moral indignation at the idea of prostitution, to which the Bedford approach leaves the door open. It would, instead, put the spotlight on the real question that the government’s chosen path raises, which is whether this moral indignation is a good enough reason to prevent vulnerable individuals from making a living in what for some, and perhaps many, of them is the only way accessible to them.

It is not the rich, who seem to be doing just fine, thank you, who most need their property and economic rights protected. It is the poor.

One point I do not make in the National Magazine blog post but want to add here is that it would be a mistake to suppose that economic rights are generally secondary to civil and political rights as a matter of liberal political theory. The better view, I believe, is that defended by James Madison in an eloquent essay called “Property.” Madison argues that what we now call rights are a form of property, so that

a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them. He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them. He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person. He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights. (Paragraph breaks removed)

The role of government, Madison says, is

 to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.

A government is not just if suppresses speech or violates the rights of conscience. But nor is it just if

arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens that free use of their faculties, and free choice of their occupations, which not only constitute their property in the general sense of the word; but are the means of acquiring property strictly so called.

“[T]he rights of property and the property in rights” go together. They are both indispensable for human freedom and self-worth. The point that respect for the latter is connected to respect for the former might seem abstract or theoretical. But we can see that violations of one go hand in hand with violations of the other.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Judicial Review

As the federal government considers its response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, which invalidated the prostitution-related provisions of the Criminal Code, one can be forgiven for wondering whether its response will be guided by facts and research, or by ideology. Unfortunately, as a depressing but important guest post by Maggie McNeill on the Washington Post’s “The Watch” blog (run by Radley Balko, a civil libertarian) shows, when it comes to sex work, facts and ideology are often inextricably linked.

Ms. McNeill writes that

many of those who represent themselves as sex work researchers don’t even try to get good data. They simply present their opinions as fact, occasionally bolstered by pseudo-studies designed to produce pre-determined results. Well-known and easily-contacted sex workers are rarely consulted. There’s no peer review. And when sex workers are consulted at all, they’re recruited from jails and substance abuse programs, resulting in a sample skewed heavily toward the desperate, the disadvantaged and the marginalized.

Much of what passes for research on sex work, says Ms. McNeill, is produced not by impartial researchers, but by interest groups campaigning for the prohibition of any and all forms of prostitution, who often try to present them as invariably involving sex trafficking and exploitation of children, knowing that this is the most effective way to produce the response they desire from the public, the media, and legislators. Ms. McNeill also points out that the very fact that prostitution is criminalized in most of the world makes reliable statistics hard to come by (although even for countries where much sex work is legal, biased “researchers” choose to focus on its illegal side). Yet the media, which shape the perceptions of the issue among the general public and legislators, swallows dubious or outright distorted figures whole, without questioning the methodologies by which they are arrived at. (The Economist’s recent article based on a “study” which, as Ms. McNeill points out, involved fewer than 40 sex workers, drawn from one small segment of the profession, is a sad example of this trend, from a supposedly intellectual publication.)

The reason I am writing about this, apart from the obvious importance for all of us as citizens of being wise to what is going on, is that the litigation which will almost inevitably follow Parliament’s response to Bedford (especially if, as rumour has it, this response will include a criminalization of the purchase of sex) will heavily rely on studies of and statistics about sex work. What is more, under the Supreme Court’s holding, in Bedford, that the findings of “legislative fact” by a trial judge are entitled to full deference appellate courts, the way these studies and statistics will be handled at first instance is likely to determine the outcome of the new constitutional challenge, just as they determined that of Bedford itself.

As I wrote in my comment on what Bedford meant for the future of Charter litigation, this is a worrying perspective:

Trial judges ― most of whom are former litigators, without any sort of systematic training that would make them suitable for assessing social science evidence from which “legislative facts” are drawn ― are not chosen in the expectation that they will exercise determinative influence on the outcome of key constitutional cases. Many trial judges are capable of undertaking this responsibility. But many, with the best will in the world, are not. Of course, this may be true of appellate judges too, although presumably more of them are chosen for their expected capacity to deal with important, challenging cases. More importantly regardless of initial qualifications, appellate judges are more likely to develop an expertise relevant for exercising such functions, because there are relatively few of them, so that each one is much more likely to come across complex constitutional cases than a trial judge, of whom there are relatively many, so that each one may face significant constitutional cases only once or twice in his or her career. Furthermore, appellate judges do not sit alone. This means that the odds that an individual judge’s error will be caught and corrected before the court’s decision is issued are higher. Shifting power in constitutional cases from appellate to trial courts may thus lead to more errors in the dispositions of such cases.

The federal government will go into any new litigation armed with a record made up of studies and statistics about sex work ― in all likelihood, studies and statistics of the sort Ms. McNeill describes. A lot will depend on whether the lawyers who will challenge it will be up to the task of exposing the flaws of such a record. But, ultimately, the outcome of the case is likely to depend on the ability of just one trial judge to understand and critically assess this evidence. With all due respect to trial judges, I find this disquieting.