Colorado Rights Blog


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ACLU Celebrates Tattered Cover Court Decision

ACLU Foundation of Colorado joined the American Booksellers Association's Foundation for Free Expression, Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis, privacy advocates and a host of First Amendment supporters in celebrating the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling protecting the privacy of book purchasers. In a unanimous decision handed down Monday morning, April 8, the Court recognized the rights of the general public to purchase books anonymously without government interference.

In early 2000, police entered the Tattered Cover Bookstore and demanded to search the purchase records of a suspected drug manufacturer. In an earlier police raid on an Adams County mobile home, the North Metro Drug Task Force had found a methamphetamine lab and books on how to make the drug. In an outdoor trash can, investigators retrieved a book-shipping envelope and invoice from the Tattered Cover Bookstore. Police subsequently secured a search warrant for the invoice. On October 20, 2000, Denver District Judge Stephen Phillips ordered that Meskis release the invoice. Meskis appealed that decision.

Writing for the Court, Justice Michael Bender stated that "had it not been for the Tattered Cover's steadfast stance, the zealousness of the City would have led to the disclosure of information that we ultimately conclude is constitutionally protected." The Decision continues, "Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation – and their ideas from suppression – at the hand of an intolerant society."

ACLU cooperating attorney Bruce Jones who filed a brief in support of the bookstore said the ruling was written "with a breadth of analysis that will extend beyond just Colorado just because of how thorough and careful and persuasively the court presented its analysis".

ACLU Executive Director Sue Armstrong hailed the court's decision as a victory for cherished First Amendment rights and for book purchasers across our state. "We are truly grateful that there is a veil of protection from future search of booksellers' records through sufficient due process measures outlined in the decision."

"Any police officer should have known that such a broadly-worded warrant violates the First Amendment right of political association and expression and the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. "Membership lists, pamphlets, papers and flyers are not evidence of crime. They are evidence that DJPC engages in lawful advocacy and political association that is protected by the Constitution."

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