First Amendment Attorney to Receive First Meskis Free Speech Award

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Michael Bamberger
Michael Bamberger

The American Booksellers Association has created a new award to honor those who have provided extraordinary service in defense of the First Amendment rights of booksellers and their customers. The Joyce Meskis Free Speech Award, which is named for the owner of Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store, will be presented to Michael A. Bamberger, the general counsel of Media Coalition, on May 31 during the Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch at BookExpo.

Bamberger has represented more than 40 bookstores in two dozen lawsuits challenging censorship laws since 1977, when he joined Media Coalition, which defends the First Amendment rights of businesses that produce and distribute books, magazines, movies, videos, recordings, and video games. He is senior counsel in the New York office of the law firm Dentons.

One of his most significant cases was a 1985 challenge to an Indianapolis ordinance that would have forced bookstores to pay damages to victims of sexual assaults who were allegedly harmed by the sale of books or magazines with sexual content. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld lower court rulings that the law was unconstitutional.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Bamberger successfully challenged dozens of state statutes that banned the display in bookstores and on bookstore websites of constitutionally protected material that is “harmful to minors.”

In his most recent case, he represented five Arizona booksellers who sued over a state law that purportedly banned the sale of “revenge porn,” which would have made it illegal to sell any book with a nude image unless the person depicted had granted permission, including books with historical images. The law was struck down as unconstitutional, and the state decided not to appeal.

Joyce Meskis
Joyce Meskis

In addition to filing lawsuits, Bamberger has written friend-of-the-court briefs in significant First Amendment cases affecting booksellers, including many that reached the Supreme Court.

Meskis said she is delighted that Bamberger is receiving an award. “Michael Bamberger has been a true and steady protector of the First Amendment, a stalwart colleague and wise counselor to booksellers across the nation in his many years of service to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, ABA, and its member stores,” she said.

ABA CEO Oren Teicher said it was easy to name the new free speech award. “It is entirely appropriate that the award should be named after Joyce, who has spent her entire career fighting for free speech,” he said.

ABA recently posted a video of Meskis discussing some of her battles on behalf of free speech and the First Amendment, including her victory in suppressing a search warrant seeking information about the books purchased by a Tattered Cover customer.