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Appeals Court Hears Connecticut Patriot Act Case

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan heard arguments November 2 in a case involving a Connecticut library and the USA Patriot Act.

While the judges did not issue a ruling at that time, they raised questions about the act’s gag provision, the New York Times reported November 3. “The troubling aspect from my standpoint is it’s without limit,” said Judge Richard J. Cardamone during the questioning. “There’s no end to how long you have to keep this secret.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the original suit, Doe v. Gonzales, in federal district court in August to challenge Section 505 of the Patriot Act and obtain release from the gag provision so its unnamed client could identify itself as the recipient of a national security letter and participate in the debate over Congress’s reauthorization of the legislation.

“I’m baffled why the argument is that they can’t participate in the debate,” said Douglas Letter, the lead attorney representing the government at the hearing. “The only thing they can’t do is say that they were the recipient of a national security letter.”

The ACLU argued that the secrecy provision violates the First Amendment, according to a November 3 report by the Hartford (Conn.) Courant. “This gag applies in every single case, whether the government can establish a need for it, and it’s permanent,” said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall removed the gag order related to the case September 9, but granted the Department of Justice time to appeal. On September 16, the appeals court granted a full stay of Hall’s decision, prompting the ACLU to file an emergency appeal before the Supreme Court; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg denied that appeal October 7.

Posted November 4, 2005.