Does the electorate have the right to be informed?

Native Intelligence By Jack D. Forbes
News From Indian Country 9-08

We are frequently told that the United States possesses three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial. In point of fact, however, that demarcation seems designed to ignore or diminish the necessary role of the electorate, i.e., the voters.

The United States Constitution clearly makes the voters a fourth branch of governance, by giving them crucially important functions, including the election of the members of the House of Representatives, the selection of electors for the Electoral College, and, after amendment, the election of the members of the United States Senate. In addition, the Constitution extends many functions to the electorate including the right to exercise powers not enumerated in the Constitution.

The guarantee of free speech to the citizenry is an example of a right, and power, not to be trifled with. This right of free speech relates in crucial ways to the electorates’ task of selecting members of Congress as well as voting in presidential primaries and elections.

Equally important is the implied right to be informed, since it is quite clear that voters may not vote wisely or meaningfully without adequate information.

Let us be even clearer: only a fool would argue that the selection of a president or of congress could be carried out in a satisfactory manner if crucially important information were being withheld from the voters and from the press (which provides much of the information about governmental behavior and issues to the said voters).

In short, unless we make a mockery of the Constitution we must agree that the electorate constitutes a fourth “house” of governance (government) and that the electorate must have access to genuine, real, and meaningful information on which to exercise its key role as collective judges of performance and policies. In short, while the Supreme Court consists in judges appointed by the President with the approval of Congress, it is the voters who act as judges over both the President and Congress. Even as justices of the Supreme Court must have access to all pertinent information, so to with the electoral judges, the voters.

We are asked, as voters, to judge whether a given individual or group (party or faction) is to be vested with tremendous power over our collective lives, and indeed, over the lives of the entire world it would seem. We are asked to give them control over our pocketbooks, our savings, our income, our livelihood, and the very safety of our homes, bodies, and freedoms. Given this crucially important challenge to us as electors do we not possess a constitutional right to be informed?

All of this may seem obvious, but it is not obvious any longer to those who would pretend to rule over us. In fact, we now face the greatest danger in many decades to our ability to know what our government is doing. Hired employees of the government, working in the Justice Department as well as elsewhere in the Executive Branch, have sought to create virtually an “imperial presidency” with immense powers (all unconstitutional) to withhold information from us.

The Executive Branch has been gradually asserting the right to hold “state secrets” which we voters are not supposed to know. They also have been asserting “executive privilege” in order to prevent us from being able to know the actual inner workings (secret decisions) of the government.

We all know that many totalitarian and authoritarian governments have traditionally kept secrets from the people along with locking those they feared in secret dungeons! Sadly, our current Executive Branch leaders, supported by their men on the Supreme Court, and often by compliant members of Congress, have chosen to travel down the path of secret government, without being able to cite any power to do so found in the Constitution.

The President as Commander in Chief in time of war may exercise “inherent powers” relating to strictly military and battlefield matters. But I suggest that that power may not extend to “secrets” and behavior that would prove decisive to a voter in the exercise of the electoral function. For example, if in 2004 the voters had known that the administration had decided to violate the Geneva Convention by authorizing torture, many voters who voted for the incumbent would have very likely voted otherwise. On the other hand, some voters who approve of the harsh treatment of “enemies” might have decided to support the incumbent.

Similarly, if the voters had had clear evidence relating to why the U.S. Air Force did not intercept any of the hijacked passenger airliners on 9-11, they might well have voted against the incumbent. Such a failure by the North American Air Defense would be of vital importance to voter decision-making. Clearly the release of government documents would in no way pose a threat to “national security” since the security had already been breached.

No freedom remains when bureaucrats may simply declare an item to be a secret. Embarrassment of officials is an absurd defense of “classified.”

Voters should have open access to all non-military decision-making if they are to judge the government at election time, as is their constitutional duty.

Professor Forbes has recently authored the revised edition of Columbus and Other Cannibals.