Off Limits

Gas pains

The customer in question may not be the most savory of Tattered Cover's faithful fans; in civil-liberties battles, you rarely find a publicity-ready poster child. Meskis recognized that as a boardmember for the American Book Sellers Foundation for Free Expression, when right-to-privacy concerns arose over former White House intern Monica Lewinsky's book-buying and -giving habits. "Of course, the police do need to have the ability to solve crimes -- we all want that," Meskis says. "It's the importance of the balance of civil liberties and protections that are critical to our form of government and our society. 'Probable cause' and 'compelling need' sound like just any old words within the vocabulary, but they have important meanings when it comes to the First Amendment."

The Colorado case dates to March 2000, when the North Metro Drug Task Force found two how-to books on building methamphetamine laboratories, along with a Tattered Cover envelope, in the Adams County trailer of a drug suspect. The agents wanted to search store records; Meskis's attorney, Dan Recht, got a restraining order prohibiting them from doing so. Last November, Denver District Judge Stephen Phillips ruled that the store must surrender the information, but also ordered a stay on the warrant being executed while the case was appealed.

All the way to the Colorado Supreme Court and Brighton High, as it turns out. The Tattered Cover case will be one of two argued before students (the other is a criminal case involving the right to refuse to show identification to police) as part of an annual outreach program to metro-area high schools that the court started a decade ago. And while Recht believes that the justices would have chosen to hear the Tattered case no matter what, he also thinks they couldn't have picked a better place to hear it.

"Kids can closely identify with this idea of the government -- or your teacher, or your parents -- knowing what you read," says Recht. "Teenagers want that to be private."

And he also recognizes that since the terrorist attacks, civil liberties and privacy issues have a new resonance. "Although there's nothing in the briefs about September 11, I pretty much feel compelled to raise the issue with the Supreme Court," he says. "We have soldiers fighting halfway across the world to protect our freedoms. In fact, this is the first one."

The frisk risk: Security foibles at Denver International Airport appeared to have improved in the days before the Thanksgiving weekend, or so says Denver City Councilman Ed Thomas, who declared that DIA had returned to being "the most efficient airport in the world" only weeks after he'd roundly bashed it. Even Travelocity, the travel company that's capitalized on recent events by releasing periodic surveys ranking wait times in security lines at airports across the country, had boosted Denver from worst -- in October -- to nearly first on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when wait times averaged only six minutes (a fact that airport public-relations people were quick to point out in the November 21 edition of their daily media briefing). Unfortunately, DIA turned into a turkey again by the end of the holiday weekend, with ninety-minute waits in the security checkpoint lines.

And Denver continues to take a public pummeling. This week, humor writer Dave Barry became the latest celebrity to take a shot at DIA, joining National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu, who last month wrote about becoming friends with his line-mates at the security station, and CBS football announcer Dick Enberg, who disparaged DIA's security screeners during a broadcast.

"Air travel sure is a big old laundry hamper of fun these days. That's what I was thinking as I was removing my clothes in front of hundreds of people at the Denver airport (which is located in Wyoming)," Barry began in Sunday's syndicated column. "For some reason, my traveling party had been singled out by the security people for a near-proctological level of scrutiny. This surprised me, because my party consisted of me, my wife and our 20-month-old daughter."

Barry, who'd come to Denver earlier this month to perform with his band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, went on to explain how he was ordered to the side and forced to remove his belt, shoes and wallet. In the meantime, another guard made Barry's daughter toddle through the metal detector by herself, even separating her from the doll she was carrying. "They finally let us pass," Barry wrote, "but when we got to our gate, they called out our names -- only our names -- and ordered us to hold out our arms to be scanned again, while all the other passengers looked on, no doubt wondering what kind of lowlife terrorists we were to be lugging around a baby."

Oh, well, at least Denver hasn't yet suffered the indignity another city went through last weekend. On Saturday, the entire Seattle airport was shut down for three hours after a National Guardsman noticed that one of the metal detectors was malfunctioning. The problem? It was unplugged.

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