NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · U.S. SUPREME COURT · Secret Courts · Aug. 8, 2006
Ginsburg orders documents unsealed in librarian case
Aug. 8, 2006 · U.S. Supreme Court filings and documents related to a group of Connecticut librarians who were the target of a national security investigation by the FBI were unsealed last week under order by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The order allowed the American Civil Liberties Union to post on its Web site specific documents containing information that the government forced the organization to file under seal in the nation’s highest court, which last fall declined to hear the case between the FBI and the librarians.
The case centers on a group of Connecticut librarians who received FBI national security letters,
administrative subpoenas that allow the FBI, in fighting terrorism, to gain access to electronic records including those held by libraries and Internet service providers.
The ACLU, which represented the librarians in the case, appealed to Ginsburg, who is the high court justice for the Second Circuit — which includes Connecticut and New York — to have the documents unsealed. The unsealed documents, which were filed with the high court in the ACLU’s appeal for the court to take the case, illustrate “the absolute absurdity of the government’s position,” said Melissa Goodman, an ACLU attorney. “The government fought very, very hard for months and months and months to keep information that was already public, one, secret and two, information that . . . was clearly not sensitive or could not possibly cause a threat to national security redacted and secret in all of these court papers.”
The documents released include ACLU legal filings in which the government redacted direct quotes from U.S. Supreme Court opinions. Goodman said that the cited opinions held that the government “can’t seal or keep from public view information that is already public.” Also previously redacted statements like “the cat is out of the bag” and a New York Times article that named the Connecticut librarians recipients of national security letters were unveiled.
Although the original case had been dismissed, the ACLU sought to have the documents that remained under seal released. The case’s appeal had been dismissed as moot once the government agreed that the identities of the librarians no longer needed to be shielded.
A gag order prevented the librarians from acknowledging that they had received the letters although their identity was uncovered through documents on a court Web site and reported by The New York Times.
The ACLU did not ask to have classified information in the documents unsealed.
The ACLU is in the process of seeking other court documents filed under seal in both the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) and in the District Court of Connecticut.
A similar case is before a federal court in New York where it will be evaluated in light of revisions to the PATRIOT Act, which governs the national security letters. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York sent the case back to the lower court in June after Congress changed the law governing such letters.
(Doe v. Gonzales; Requester’s counsel: Melissa Goodman, American Civil Liberties Union, New York) — BW