Freedom to Read Amendment Fails on Tie Vote

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On Thursday, July 8, the Freedom to Read Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State (CJS) Appropriations Bill, died in a tie vote -- 210 - 210 -- in the U.S. House of Representatives. The amendment had been introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and would have barred the Justice Department from using any of the money appropriated under the CJS bill to search bookstore and library records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

As the votes were called, it appeared that the amendment would pass. However, as reported by A.P., Republican leaders kept the vote open for 20 minutes more than the normal 15-minute time limit. In the end, they persuaded about 10 Republicans who initially supported the provision to change their votes.

"The close vote in the House reflects the growing support for the protection of the privacy of bookstore and library records, and shows clearly that our efforts are having an effect," said ABA COO Oren Teicher. "ABA thanks every bookseller who called their member of Congress, as well as the 210 members of the House who voted for the amendment."

Teicher stressed that ABA will continue to work with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and with booksellers to promote the Campaign for Reader Privacy in an effort to amend Section 215. "We strongly encourage booksellers to continue to collect signatures on in-store petitions that will be presented to Congress in September," he said.

Sanders had introduced the Freedom to Read Amendment because House leaders refused to hold a hearing on his Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), which would exempt bookstores and libraries from Section 215. The CJS amendment was co-sponsored by Sanders, Ron Paul (R-TX), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-ID), and Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

The close vote on the Freedom to Read Amendment foreshadows a major battle in Congress in 2005 over reauthorizing the provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the year. In addition to H.R. 1157, several bills that amend the Patriot Act will be considered, including the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (S. 1709), which is currently sponsored by 20 senators, including Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.