Tattered Cover's messy battle began in March 2000 when the Drug Enforcement Agency, during the raid of a methamphetamine lab, found a Tattered Cover shipping envelope in the suspect's garbage and nearly new books on methamphetamine production. The DEA wanted to strengthen its case by tying the suspects' activities with his book purchases. Tattered Cover's owner, Joyce Meskis, thought the request for the customer's information was a violation of First Amendment rights, and she refused to hand over the records. The case, heard by Colorado's Supreme Court in December, will hand down its decision this spring.
Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, complains that requests for customer information is part of law enforcement's attempt to take the path of least resistance in their investigations. "(The police) left avenues uninvestigated and went to the bookstore because it's more convenient for them," he says. That strategy, however, hasn't proven to be as successful as they may have thought. In the three other cases where customer records have been requested, each bookstore chose to fight it. "They need to respect bookstores for what they are: purveyors of ideas, not a hardware store," Finan says.