Nadler: Shame on House Republican Leadership for Silencing its Own Members

Jul 7, 2004

Washington, DC -- House Republicans today held open a vote for more than 30 minutes, after a majority of the House voted in favor of the "Freedom to Read" amendment, until the Republican Leadership had twisted enough arms to cause eight Republican Members to change their votes and ultimately defeat the amendment. The "Freedom to Read" amendment would have restored the privacy and First Amendment rights of library and bookstore patrons that were in place before passage of the USA Patriot Act. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced the amendment with Representatives Bernie Sanders (D-VT), C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-ID), John Conyers (D-MI), and Ron Paul (R-TX).

"The Republicans are so desperate to look into bookstore and library records that they violated the very principles of democracy to block an amendment that had already passed. This is an outrage. This is a sad day for democracy and liberty. Do the Republicans have no shame? If ever there was an overt act by a political party of hostility to liberty and freedom, this was it. I would say that I am shocked, but, unfortunately, I have come to expect it from this Republican leadership. It is clear to me today, that now more than ever, we must change the house leadership to restore democracy in America," said Nadler.

To restore protections and warrant procedures that were in place for libraries and bookstores before passage of the USA Patriot Act, the "Freedom to Read" amendment would prohibit any funds in the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2005 from being used to do a Section 215 search of library circulation records, library patron lists, library Internet records, book sales records, or lists of book customers.

Before passage of the Patriot Act, the FBI could only obtain records from a limited group of businesses. Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act expands the scope of materials that the FBI can access with a warrant from the government's secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Now, the FBI is empowered by law to search for any "tangible things," including books, records, papers, documents and other items, in any location. This broad language includes bookstores and libraries, which are traditionally protected by the First Amendment from government surveillance. The "Freedom to Read" amendment would allow the FBI to continue to use search warrants and grand jury subpoenas to get library and bookstore records.

"People are outraged by the loss of civil liberties and they are upset by the actions taken by J. Edgar Ashcroft and the Department of Justice. The Republican leadership today solidified the government's ability to rummage through bookstore and library records of innocent Americans. Evidently, the Republicans believe that the government should be in the thought police business," said Nadler.