Government should not be the information police
The late Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson made an astute pronouncement regarding the role of government in managing the citizenry. He wrote, “It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.” This kind of thinking has served the United States well for almost two and a half centuries.
Justice Jackson would have been shocked and saddened to see the results of a recent Pew Research Center poll which assessed public perception of the role of government in controlling false information. The poll reveals that almost half of Americans (48 percent) support the government taking action to restrict false information in the public sphere. Worse yet, those Americans are willing to yield to government information control even “if it means losing some freedom to access and publish content.”
Justice Jackson was a bright and independent thinker in his time. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1942 by President Franklin Roosevelt. He is the last justice to serve on the Supreme Court who did not have a law degree. He was appointed by President Truman to serve as the United States’ chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals — and won praise for his management of such uncharted legal territory. Given his experience prosecuting Nazis, Jackson knew well the dangers of information flow being determined or restricted by dictatorial regimes.