Saturday, October 08, 2005

FIRST AMENDMENT: Connecticut libraries lose round in Patriot Act suit

A consortium of Connecticut libraries which has been barred from publicly protesting provisions of the USA Patriot Act lost an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. Please be familiar with this case for our discussion on Thursday, Oct. 13, with Ty Resch.

Here's an earlier story from the American Library Association website describing the rather complicated legal situation:

Here's a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff-written story on the action on Friday by Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg of the U.S. Supreme Court:

A U.S. Supreme Court justice refused yesterday to lift a court order that has prevented a Connecticut library system from identifying itself as the recipient of an FBI letter seeking records showing whether patrons had visited a particular Internet address.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled against the library system even though she acknowledged that it had offered "cogent" arguments for being allowed to identify itself so it could participate in the public debate over whether the USA Patriot Act should be extended.

Making use of provisions in the Patriot Act, the FBI sent the library system a "national security letter" seeking the computer records as part of an investigation of "international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." Under the law, recipients of such letters may not reveal that fact publicly.

In September, a federal district judge in Bridgeport, Conn., ruled that the non-disclosure rule was unconstitutional, saying that it had "the practical effect of silencing individuals with a constitutionally protected interest in speech and whose voices are particularly important in an ongoing national debate about the intrusion of governmental authority into individual lives."

But that ruling in the libraries' favor has been stayed -- meaning that the library system must stay mum -- while the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reviews the district judge's ruling.

The library system -- identified in court papers only as "John Doe" -- asked Justice Ginsburg, who handles emergency appeals from the 2nd Circuit, to lift the gag order.

In a brief filed by the ACLU, the library consortium renewed its complaint that it was prevented by the order from offering Congress and the public first-hand information about the operation of the Patriot Act. It also noted that the library system had been identified by The New York Times in a Sept. 21 news story.

But in a seven-page opinion Justice Ginsburg said the libraries' arguments didn't constitute an "extraordinary" situation that would justify the Supreme Court's intervention in a matter that was still before the 2nd Circuit, which she said was "swiftly proceeding" toward a resolution of the issue.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said that the ALA was disappointed by Ginsburg's ruling. She said the association thought that the gag order did qualify as an "extraordinary" restriction on speech.

(Michael McGough can be reached at 1-202-662-7025 or


Posted on Mon, Oct. 03, 2005

High court input eyed in Patriot Act case

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court was asked Monday to let libraries speak out about FBI demands for their records in a case involving the Patriot Act anti-terrorism law.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the emergency appeal, on behalf of an anonymous client, but the paperwork is censored and gives few details.

The ACLU has argued that a gag order prevents its client, apparently librarians in Connecticut, from participating in a debate over whether Congress should reauthorize the Patriot Act.

A federal judge said that the gag order had "the practical effect of silencing individuals with a constitutionally protected interest in speech and whose voices are particularly important in an ongoing national debate about the intrusion of governmental authority into individual lives."

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York put the decision on hold, and the Supreme Court was asked to overrule the appeals court.

Federal prosecutors have maintained that secrecy about records demands is necessary to keep from alerting suspects and jeopardizing terrorism investigations. They contend the gag order prevents only the release of the client's identity.

The Patriot Act, passed shortly after the 2001 terror attacks, allowed expanded surveillance of terror suspects, increased use of material witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado and secret proceedings in immigration cases. Some key provisions expire at the end of the year.

Ann Beeson, the ACLU attorney in the Supreme Court case, said Monday that "the government's application of the gag order is preventing me from explaining our First Amendment argument" about the free-speech rights of her client.

"It's really ridiculous," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "I'm just waiting for the first search of a newsroom to come down and for someone to say, `You can't report we just searched you.'"

The emergency appeal was filed with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who handles cases from the 2nd Circuit. She could act alone or ask that all the justices participate.

The case is Doe v. Gonzales, 05-A295.


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