Federal prosecutors might charge New York's Democratic governor, Eliot Spitzer, under a relatively obscure — and controversial — 1910 law that was originally intended to combat forced prostitution and "debauchery." Its official name is the White Slave Traffic Act, but it's better known as the Mann Act, named after its author, Rep. James R. Mann (R-IL).
In recent years, the Mann Act has been used selectively. But it has not faded into irrelevance. Last week, four people suspected of running the Emperor's Club — the prostitution service that Spitzer allegedly frequented — were charged with violating the Mann Act, among other crimes including money laundering.
Enacted during a time of great change and "moral panic," the Mann Act was originally designed to combat forced prostitution. The law, however, has been applied broadly over the years and, critics say, used as a tool of political persecution and even blackmail. In the past century, thousands of people have been prosecuted under the Mann Act, including celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, Frank Lloyd Wright, Chuck Berry and Jack Johnson.