Saturday, September 10, 2005

The ACLU Keeps Its Eyes on All the Balls

I know, I know. I've been beating a drum, some would say heartlessly, labeled "pay attention to all the issues, not just Katrina."

Yes, Katrina should have our attention. We should be demanding answers as to what went wrong and we should be demanding real, humane relief to those who have suffered because of the clusterfuck endemic to BushCo. My point is that there is more going on, and if we fail to pay attention to some of the other issues facing us, we are not only going to lose the battle, but also the war.

The Patriot Act has not been sent to the Resident because the House and Senate bills are still in conference committee. There's not all that much difference between the two versions, but the fact there is any difference gives us a slim window of opportunity that might enable us to stop a law that completely wipes out the Bill of Rights or at least give us a chance to point out what is so terribly wrong with the Act.

Fortunately, the ACLU is still fighting for us. The group has just won a skirmish on the existing bill.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A federal judge has lifted a gag order that shielded the identity of librarians who received an FBI demand for records about library patrons under the Patriot Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that the gag order prevented their client from participating in a debate over whether Congress should reauthorize the Patriot Act.

"Clearly the judge recognized it was profoundly undemocratic to gag a librarian from participating in the Patriot Act debate,'' said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson.

Prosecutors argue that the gag order blocked the release of the client's identity, not the client's ability to speak about the Patriot Act. They said revealing the client's identity could tip off suspects and jeopardize a federal investigation into terrorism or spying.

Hall rejected the argument that the gag order didn't silence the client.

"The government may intend the non-disclosure provision to serve some purpose other than the suppression of speech,'' Hall wrote. "Nevertheless, it has 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 ruling rejected the gag order in this case, but it did not strike down the provision of the law used by the FBI to demand the library records. A broader challenge to that provision is still pending before Hall.

The point of the holding is that by enforcing the non-disclosure order on the identity of the librarian who received the FBI order to provide the information, that librarian would have to stay silent on any discussion of the effects of such an order. That, my friends, is an excellent example of the chilling effect on free speech that the First Amendment guarantees.

Hopefully Judge Hall will also find the underlying section of the Patriot Act similarly unconstitutional, but in the meantime, we should all be screaming at our elected representatives about this fascist Act.


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