After the title of the book at the center of a landmark First Amendment case came to light last week, a Denver Post editorial once again praised the Tattered Cover Book Store for its decision to fight what could have been "a nasty precedent of allowing the government to stick its nose where it doesn't belong."
On April 8, the lawyer for suspected methamphetamine maker Chris Montoya authorized the widespread disclosure that the book title Denver's North Metro Drug Task Force had sought by subpoenaing Tattered Cover's customer records had nothing to do with manufacturing drugs. Instead, it was Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters by Kenneth G. Henshall. With tongue firmly in cheek, the Post's editorial writer noted: "Let us be the first to say: When Japanese calligraphy is outlawed, only outlaws will perform Japanese calligraphy."
But the message of the editorial was serious. It underscored that "drug task force investigators, obviously, were chasing their own tails on this one." While law enforcement officials had discovered a mailing envelope from Tattered Cover in a trash bin outside the methamphetamine lab and had recovered two books nearby on how to manufacture methamphetamine, their next move was ill advised. As the Post put it: "They assumed -- and we all know what trouble that gets us into -- that Montoya had purchased a 'how-to' manual for making methamphetamine from the Tattered Cover."
It was Tattered Cover's resolve to fight the case that authorities had not banked on. The case went all the way to the State Supreme Court, where Tattered Cover's arguments prevailed. And through it all, the store did not reveal the name of the title in question. As the Post said, "We have applauded [store owner Joyce] Meskis' resolve on this page before. Knowing now what she was concealing, it would have been very easy for her to say: Look, it's a calligraphy book."
While acknowledging, "we understand that the North Metro Drug Task Force was trying to protect the community," the Post concluded its editorial by noting, "We're just happy that Meskis was equally committed to protecting our First Amendment rights."