Is it possible to prevent the government’s lies or limit their harms?
Of all the kinds of lies that proliferate in the public sphere, perhaps the most dangerous to the functioning of democratic government are government lies. This is because when the government lies, it threatens the ability of the people to perform their basic democratic function: namely, to judge whether their elected representatives are representing their interests satisfactorily. Government lies are also, however, harder to regulate than other kinds. The courts have almost unequivocally rejected the idea that constitutional law should do anything to constrain the government’s capacity to lie. The result is that what mechanisms exist to limit government lying—whistleblower laws, right of information statutes, norms forbidding political interference with bureaucratic practice—are entirely a product of legislative invention or institutional self-regulation. Are there reforms, either constitutional, legislative, or institutional, that could be made to limit the government’s capacity to lie or to mitigate the harms created by government lies? What might it do to preserve the integrity of the information that the federal and state bureaucracies produce? In an intensely partisan political environment, is it possible to prevent the government’s lies or limit their harms?
Hina Shamsi, ACLU
Helen Norton, Colorado Law
David Luban, Georgetown Law
Wendy Wagner, Texas Law
Genevieve Lakier, Knight First Amendment Institute
University of Colorado School of Law
Knight Institute Senior Visiting Research Scholar 2021-2022; University of Chicago Law School