WASHINGTON (AP) – Connecticut libraries lost an emergency Supreme Court appeal on Friday in their effort to be freed from a gag order and participate in a congressional debate over the Patriot Act.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg denied the appeal and offered an unusually detailed explanation of her decision.

Ginsburg said the American Civil Liberties Union had made reasonable arguments on behalf of its client, identified in a filing as the Library Connection, an association of libraries in Connecticut.

However, Ginsburg said that the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should be given time to consider whether the Patriot Act, and its requirement of secrecy in records demands, is unconstitutional as applied to the libraries.

“A decision of that moment warrants cautious review,” she said.

The ACLU, with backing from the American Library Association, argued that a gag order prevents its client from taking part in debate on Capitol Hill about the Patriot Act, which was passed shortly after the 2001 terror attacks. Some key provisions expire at the end of the year.

A federal judge said that the gag order on the libraries had silenced people “whose voices are particularly important in an ongoing national debate about the intrusion of governmental authority into individual lives.”

The 2nd circuit put the decision on hold, and Ginsburg was asked to intervene. In turning down that request, Ginsburg said she expected the appeals court to hear arguments in the government’s appeal and rule “with appropriate care and dispatch.” Arguments are Nov. 2.

The case could still return to the Supreme Court.

The Patriot Act authorized expanded surveillance of terror suspects, increased use of material witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado and secret proceedings in immigration cases.

Much of the Supreme Court appeal, filed earlier this week, was classified and blacked out. The Bush administration’s published response consisted of blank pages. A filing by the American Library Association and other groups included some details, as did Ginsburg’s seven-page opinion.

She said that the library association member received an FBI demand for records but was told that it would be illegal to tell anyone about it. The group sued on free-speech grounds so that it could take part “in the current debate – both in Congress and among the public – regarding proposed revisions to the Patriot Act,” according to Ginsburg.

Federal prosecutors have maintained that secrecy about records demands is necessary to keep from alerting suspects and jeopardizing terrorism investigations.

Ann Beeson, the ACLU lawyer handling the case, said Friday that they would continue their legal fight.

“Ultimately, we believe that this broad power, which allows the government to seize library and Internet records without judicial authorization, is unconstitutional and offensive to American democracy,” she said.

The emergency appeal was filed with Ginsburg because she handles cases from the 2nd Circuit.

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

On the Net:

American Library Association: http://ala.org/


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