Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Chris from NJ alerted us to this bit of interesting news published By PublishersWeekly.com. It seems the Colorado Supreme Court doesn't see eye to eye with Mr. Ashcroft on the scope and reach of the Patriot Act. Since I can't find the page to link to, I'm going to reprint the entire story from their email newsletter here.

Tattered Cover Cuts Piece of Victory Cloth

The Colorado Supreme Court today handed Tattered Cover a First Amendment victory by reversing a trial court judgment requiring the Denver bookstore to turn over records about a customer's book purchases. All six justices participating in the case sided with
the bookstore.

The court also ruled that in the future any law enforcement requests for such information from an "innocent third-party bookstore" would require a hearing and couldn't be carried out merely with a search warrant.

Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis says she was ìincredibly relieved," by the ruling. She praised the decision as "more than we asked for but not more than we hoped for" and thanked the many groups that helped the store during its two-year battle. These have included the American Foundation for Free Expression, which provided financial support and filed two amicus briefs on the store's behalf, other industry groups, booksellers, publishers and authors.

Calling the court's opinion "a primer on the First Amendment," Tattered Cover lawyer Daniel Recht says that the ruling has "huge national significance" because this is the first of the 50 state supreme courts to address the issue.

ABFFE president Chris Finan emphasizes that the "remarkable" ruling came at a particularly difficult time in the national debate about balancing law enforcement and free speech. While not addressing the matter directly, he said the ruling "underlines our concerns" about the Patriot Act, last fall's anti-terrorist federal law that increased police powers to examine bookstore records.

Speaking on behalf of the publishing community AAP president Pat Schroder cheered the ruling and praised Meskisí decision to fight the search warrant because of the possible chilling effect such a search would have on consumersí First Amendment rights.

In its ruling, the court stated that "both the United States and Colorado constitutions protect the rights of the general public to purchase books anonymously, without governmental interference," adding that the police must "show a need for the specific customer purchase record sought that is sufficiently compelling to outweigh the harm likely caused to constitutional interests by execution of the search." In this case, there was no compelling need - in part because the police had significant evidence about who committed the crime.

The local police and a Drug Enforcement Agency officer had sought the records to aid in an investigation of the owner of a methamphetamine laboratory. (In a March 2000 search of the lab, police had found apparently new copies of Advanced Techniques of Clandestine Psychedelic and Amphetamine Manufacture by Uncle Fester and The Construction and Operation of Clandestine Drug Laboratories by Jack B. Nimble as well as, in the garbage, an empty, possibly tattered, package from the Tattered Cover.)

The search warrant at the heart of the case asked Tattered Cover for information about what books had been shipped in the package as well as information about all other book orders placed by the main suspect during the 30 days before the police searched the lab. The trial court had declined to approve the general book search, but had supported the request for specific information about the package.

--John Mutter

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