Issue 98, Summer 2005

The House of Representatives voted to exempt library and bookstores from FBI searches allowed under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The Freedom to Read Act, introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (VT), cuts funding for such searches by amending the House Appropriations Bill. The vote of 238 to 187 shows growing legislative support to protect Americans’ right to privacy, and the effectiveness of the Campaign for Reader Privacy. This is a significant victory, but the battle will continue as Congress considers renewal of the sunset provisions in the Patriot Act.

As the US Supreme Court winds down, watch for an important decision on the free speech rights of public employees. In Garcetti v. Ceballos, the high court is reviewing a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that gave First Amendment protection to a whistle-blower who was demoted after testifying in a case concerning his government employer. In its appeal, Los Angeles officials claimed that the ruling “greatly cripples a public employer’s right to supervise and marshal employee resources in the efficient management of the public’s business.” The Circuit Court ruled that “the right of public employees to speak freely on matters of public concern is important to the orderly functioning of the democratic process, because…by virtue of their access to information and experience regarding the operations, conduct and policies of government agencies and officials, [they] are positioned uniquely to contribute to the debate…”