Unlawful seizure of constitutionally protected literature during the execution of several search warrants

Case Description

In September 2008, the ACLU of Minnesota sued Ramsey County Sheriff Fletcher and others under his direction for the unlawful seizure of vast amounts of constitutionally protected literature while executing several search warrants in the days leading up to the 2008 Republican National Convention. Police seized multiple copies of hundreds of different First Amendment protected publications, including books, pamphlets, leaflets, posters, stickers, and buttons, despite the fact that these documents were intended to be distributed peacefully. Our lawsuit argues that the seizure of First Amendment materials violated our clients' free speech and due process rights guaranteed under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

During depositions, the defendants began to delve into information we believed would interfere with our client's First Amendment protected associational and speech activities. We sought to protect our client's rights by asserting a First Amendment privilege to prevent them from having to answer questions that would chill their free speech rights. The defendants responded by filing a motion to compel our clients to testify about various lines of inquiry. We opposed the motion and informed the magistrate that our clients were willing to disclose the names of the groups whose literature was seized, and their membership in those groups for purposes of demonstrating their ownership claim to the literature; however, we made clear that our clients objected to providing information that did not relate to their ownership of those materials.

We argued that the First Amendment privilege - dating back more than five decades to the civil rights era when members of the NAACP were targeted target for harassment, retaliation and violence, is designed to protect individuals from being compelled to provide information about their First Amendment activities unless the government can show that they have a compelling need for the information. We further contended that the information the defendants sought was not relevant and that they failed to meet their burden to overcome that privilege. Unfortunately, the Magistrate disagreed with our position and granted the Defendants' motion to compel testimony. We have filed an objection to the Magistrate's ruling with the District Court Judge and our client's depositions have been put on hold until the matter is resolved.

On July 30, ACLU-MN attorneys filed a motion for partial summary judgment on behalf of the Plaintiffs. In our motion we requested that the court rule in our favor on all of our claims except for the damages claim, which we asked to be submitted to a jury. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction ordering Ramsey County Sheriff Fletcher and his staff to return vast amounts of constitutionally protected literature that was illegally seized in the days leading up to the 2008 RNC Convention. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the same day.


Al Goins, Goins Law Firm & Geneva Finn

Date filed

July 30, 2008


United States District Court - District of Minnesota