Detroit Judge Finds Patriot Act Provision Threatens Free Speech Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
October 3, 2006 12:00 am

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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed a federal court ruling that the Patriot Act threatens the free speech and religious freedom rights of groups who have reason to believe they are targeted by the law.

“Today’s ruling confirms what we have said all along – that our clients are suffering concrete harm as a result of the Patriot Act,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson.

At issue in the case was the ACLU’s challenge to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, which radically expanded the FBI’s power to demand records and personal belongings of innocent people living in the United States, and gagged recipients from disclosing the demands to anyone. The national ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed the case in July 2003 on behalf of advocacy and community groups from across the country whose members and clients believed they were the targets of investigations because of their ethnicity, religion and political associations.

In her ruling issued on Monday, Judge Denise Page Hood rejected the government’s motion to dismiss the case and granted the ACLU 30 days to decide whether to file an amended complaint in light of changes to the law. She also noted that Section 215 was amended by Congress “while the matter was under advisement,” and therefore her ruling does not apply to the current, reauthorized version of the Patriot Act.

In its reauthorization of the Patriot Act earlier this year, Congress addressed some of the issues raised in the ACLU’s lawsuit.

“Although the Patriot Act provision still fails to comply with the Constitution, we are pleased that our legal challenge – combined with our advocacy in Congress – fixed some of the defects in the law,” Beeson said.

For instance, as a result of reforms, the law now makes explicit that any business that receives an order for records of employees or customers has a right to consult with a lawyer. The orders continue to gag recipients automatically. Businesses may now challenge the gag orders, but challenges would be difficult if not impossible because judges must defer to the FBI’s view that secrecy is necessary.

The ACLU is fighting a similar gag provision in another case, Doe v. Gonzales, which seeks to strike down the expanded National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act. That case is currently before the Southern District of New York. For more information, go to

The ACLU is reviewing the Detroit court ruling in light of changes to the law; attorneys said they are conferring with their clients about next steps in the case. The decision is online at: For more information on the case, go to

For more information on the Patriot Act reauthorization, go to

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