Magazine article American Libraries

CDA Suit Strategies and Funding Draw Board's Focus

Magazine article American Libraries

CDA Suit Strategies and Funding Draw Board's Focus

Article excerpt

ALA's challenge to the Communications Decency Act (AL, Aug. 1996, p. 11) - legal strategies and the suit's funding-was the focus of much attention from the ALA Executive Board during its three Midwinter Meeting sessions in Washington.

When it announced in December that it would hear the government's appeal of the case, the Supreme Court consolidated ALA's suit challenging the act with a separate suit led by the American Civil Liberties Union, and only one of the co-plaintiffs will be allowed to argue the case before the Supreme Court. Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) President June Pinnell-Stephens explained that while the ACLU's argument would emphasize the indecency issue, ALA legal counsel Bruce Ennis would stress the fact that the act would cut off access to constitutionally protected information.

Pinnell-Stephens said a Supreme Court decision based on ALA's arguments would be preferable as a legal precedent for future First Amendment battles. Board member Martin Gomez noted that "tremendous issues are at stake," and that this was "the only chance to argue on behalf of the profession." Pinnell-Stephens maintained that ALA is more credible than the ACLU, both before the Supreme Court and in the court of public opinion.

Shortly after Midwinter, counsel from the two organizations held a moot court, after which it was decided that Ennis would argue the case, which was scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court March 19.

The issue of funding for the suit also proved contentious. The Executive Board had committed $250,000 from its Future Fund toward the effort, with an agreement that ALA would raise funds to pay back the loan. However, Executive Director Elizabeth Martinez stated that ALA had only received $40,812 to date. In turn, FTRF has expressed questions about its joint fundraising effort with the Fund for America's Libraries. "There is no formal agreement on how to split the costs," Martinez observed.

These and other unresolved issues prompted an informal meeting of representatives of the Executive Board and the FTRF board later in the conference. Afterward, ALA President Mary Somerville called the meeting "highly productive" and noted that she and Pinnell-Stephens had agreed to stay in close communication to settle such problems quickly in the future.

The board then voted that all funds raised jointly to date would go toward the CDA litigation, to accept an offer from FTRF to provide expense money for the fundraising effort proportional to its contribution to the funds devoted to the CDA effort, and to request quarterly reports from all groups involved in funding the suit.

Sparking Spectrum

Martinez's new Spectrum Initiative, an ambitious three-year proposal to increase minority enrollment in library education programs through a $1-million scholarship endowment, was endorsed by the board, which voted to distribute the plan to ALA units and councilors for comments before Annual Conference, with the intent of implementing it by the 1998-99 academic year.

However, several board members expressed reservations over the fact that the initiative would draw $1.5 million from ALA's endowment fund. "For the first time we would be taking money - a large chunk - from the endowment," observed Charles Beard. …

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