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.